India’s Nadeem Iqbal failed to set Sochi alight, as he finished an underwhelming 85th out of 92 participants in the men’s 15km classic cross-country skiing event at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Iqbal recorded a time of 55:12.5 in the event, which was off by 16:42.8 from the time of Dario Cologna of Switzerland, who finished in 38:29.7 to walk away with the gold medal. The silver and bronze medals were both bagged by Sweden; Johan Olsson took silver with a time of 38:58.2 and Daniel Richardsson grabbed bronze with a time of 39:08.5.
Iqbal, who is a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, had come into Sochi after he qualified at the Federation Internationale Ski Nordic Qualifying Races in Italy and France in November and December 2013 respectively. A native of Bharot village in Rajouri, Iqbal has in the past won a gold medal at the South Asian Winter Games and registered a fourth place finish at the Asian Winter Games.
Iqbal, the only Indian participant in the cross-country skiing event, was the subject of considerable media attention as he, along with Shiva Keshavan and Himanshu Thakur, were forced to march under the IOC flag rather than the tri-colour at the opening ceremony of the Games. This was because of the suspension of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), owing to the dubious election procedures followed by the latter. The suspension was subsequently lifted by the IOC two days ago, after the IOC conducted fresh elections that followed the principles underlined in the Olympic Charter.
This wasn’t the only roadblock that Iqbal had to deal with. Just days before the start of the Games, the Kashmiri soldier was unsure whether he would be able to purchase the necessary skiing equipment for the event, as the Indian sports ministry had failed to sanction the grant of funds for the same right until the very last minute. Fortunately for Iqbal, the funds were subsequently released just before his departure to Sochi, which ensured that he would at least get to participate, if only as an ‘independent contestant’ rather than as representative of India.
All said and done, the fact that Iqbal participated in the cross-country skiing event at all, and actually finished the race, is a commendable feat.