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The incredible tale of Jerry Bujakowski, India's first-ever participant at the Winter Olympics

ANALYST
Feature
250   //    12 Jan 2018, 22:16 IST

Jerry Bu
Jerry Bujakowski (Image: Olympic.org)

The 23rd Winter Olympics are all set to start from February 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea and the latest edition of the Games will see nearly 90 countries take part in 102 events across a total of seven sports.

With the mega-event on the horizon, India's winter athletes are fighting tooth and nail to ensure their Olympic qualification. The nation does not have the richest of histories at the Winter Games but very few Indians know the tale of Jeremy 'Jerry' Bujakowski, who was the first Indian to represent the country at the event all the way back in 1964.

And incredibly, he wasn't even born in India!

Born in Lithuania, brought up in India

Bujakowski was born on March 30, 1939, in Druskininkai, Lithuania to a Polish couple. A few years later, his father found himself a job in the oil industry in India, after which the family moved to the nation. Young Jerry was granted Indian citizenship soon and he completed his primary education from India before moving to the United States for further studies.

Jerry's interest in alpine skiing began during his time in the US and after learning the basics, he put his heart and soul into mastering it. After a while, he got so good at it that he was even offered a full scholarship at the University of Denver.

He soon became very proficient at skiing and in 1963, he decided to enter the Winter Olympics scheduled to take place in Innsbruck, Austria next year, thus becoming the first athlete from India to do so.

However, things did not go as planned at the 1964 Games as he suffered a grievous injury during his run that threatened to cut his skiing career short. The course was an extremely difficult one and his injury was such that he ended the event with a broken back, a fractured leg, concussions and haemorrhages.

Miraculous recovery

Jerry had to undergo multiple surgeries over the course of the next 18 months but in a testament to his incredible willpower, he successfully recovered, regained fitness and resumed training to prepare for the next edition of the Olympics.

Miraculously, he was back in action at the 1968 Winter Olympics held in France and competed in the downhill, slalom, and giant slalom events in the alpine skiing category. And once again, he was the nation's sole participant at the event!

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In the downhill and giant slalom, he finished in 53rd and 65th positions respectively as he managed to complete the two events and thus recorded India's first ever finish at the Winter Olympics. 

He was also a keen surfer and represented India at the 1968 World Surfing Championships as well, where he quite incredibly wore sneakers while riding the waves.

It was only after a long period of 20 years that we saw an Indian take part in the Winter Olympics next. It was all the way later in 1988 that the trio of Gul Dev, Kishir Rahtna and Shailaja Kumar raised the Indian flag at the Winter Olympics where incidentally, Kumar also became the first woman to represent India at the mega-event.

As India prepares for the 2018 Games, it is only fair that we acknowledge the person who got the nation up and running at the event with his incredible display of courage and determination!

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