Luge is one of the sports that is not so common in India, at least by the standards of the other games like cricket, football, kabaddi, etc. that have taken the country by storm. However, there are a few people who have just made the nation nothing but absolutely proud and thirsty for more. One of these is the luge champion from Manali, Shiva Keshavan. He has represented the country in six Winter Olympic Games, becoming the first Indian to compete at these games in the event.
With some interesting feats to his name, he's also someone who has bagged two degrees while pursuing his career as a luger. He's got a bachelor's degree in the social sciences and politics and a master's in International Relations, both from the University of Florence. So, without further ado, let us go straight into the interview mode with the reigning Asian Champion.
Let’s go back in time and think about where it all started for you. Can you trace back those moments for us?
I remember getting an invitation to participate in a talent scout camp for winter sports. We were not told which sport until we got to the venue. I remember how excited I was at the prospect of going so fast down an ice track!
How did you prepare when you were younger, and what were the moments that made you realise that you were going to turn professional?
I started off with quite a generic training program, which worked for me because I was practising so many different sports during the year. The more I immersed myself in luge, I came into contact with professional trainers and biomechanics who made me realise the importance of scientific methods of training. As my training got more and more specific, I started concentrating more on a single sport.
Which tournaments were the most important in your early career? What did you learn from these events?
Every event was important to me.
It was an incredible honour to represent India internationally. Being a part of the international racing circuit meant that I could measure myself against the best in the world and see for myself what has gone into the making of the world's best teams and athletes.
Who do you think has been the biggest influence in your career?
The coaches and technicians I worked with.
From Gunther Lemmerer, my first coach and International Federation development manager, to Duncan Kennedy my current personal coach and 21 world titles' holder. I was influenced by many people around me including my competitors.
You have participated in 6 Winter Olympic Games. Can you share your experience of playing in these prestigious Games?
The Olympic experience is what has given my struggle meaning.
When I first qualified for the Olympics in 1998, it was a life goal for me. It was only after that I realised the true value of being part of the Olympic movement. Much more than a competition, the Olympics is a way of life. It is based on the joy found in the effort. The faith and determination in your struggle is what gives it meaning, being true to your self and overcoming your limits along the way.
I also learned about fair play, respect and friendship, fundamental parts of the sports life that stay with you forever.
You have a Bachelor's and a Master's degree from the University of Florence. How did you manage both studying and training?
Studying and training together was quite challenging at times since I was generally away competing on the World Cup circuit for 5 months a year.
University was like a break from the intense competitive atmosphere surrounding the races. I was also able to follow some of my other interests beyond sport. My travels had made me curious to learn more about the world, so I decided to take up social sciences and make use of the opportunity I was given to widen my horizons. University helped me to make the most of my sports career as well.
Can you take us through your training routine for the Olympics? What does it take for aspiring lugers to reach the next level?
At the International level, training takes up most of the day. The year is divided into phases and the athlete tries to organise his off-season practice to be in peak condition for the most important competitions of the year.
During the summer, luge athletes go through the physical training program. Once the winter season comes, it is more about the technical aspect of training and getting enough practice and race exposure.
Although the race season may only last during the winter months, the training program extends to the whole year. Another important aspect is the equipment, that too requires a lot of expertise, resources, and time to develop.
You have also mentored some upcoming players in special coaching camps. Can you please elaborate on that?
Since I am the first Indian to reach a certain level in winter sports, I feel it is my duty to bring back home some of my experiences and knowledge gained from spending so much time amongst the world's best athletes and teams.
One of my dreams is to create a legacy for Luge in India. The youth team that I trained for two consecutive years showed great promise. I was very proud when the Junior Team won medals in the C Category Asian Championships in Japan. With the right training and resources, there is no reason why young athletes should not be able to improve on my achievements. However, this needs a long term plan and funding by the sports authorities.
Pyeongchang 2018 marked your final Olympic appearance. What went through your mind during these games? Now, as you’ve finished, what’s your next plan?
After 22 years of International competition, the luge circuit had become my home. It was only during my final year I realised that change is the only constant. This realisation made me treasure the moment during my last Olympics and be grateful for everything and everyone that made this journey possible.
I am trying to use my experiences to make a positive difference for the future of the next generation of athletes. I have been appointed to the Indian Olympic Association Athletes Commission and Ethics Committee, the Himachal Pradesh government's Sports council and have founded the Olympians Association of India, a not-for-profit alumni organisation of Olympians that support this growing community.
Finally, any last thoughts that you would like to share with us.
It has been an incredible journey to represent India for so many years and I hope to continue playing my part to make a better future for Indian athletes. For all the young athletes out there looking to make a mark, I’d like to share a motto that helped me overcome so many difficult moments - Never Give In.Published 29 Jan 2019, 11:55 IST