Indian winter sports needs Shiva Keshavan more than ever after retirement
Two decades is a long time for an athlete to be active in any sport. Be it Leander Paes, Sachin Tendulkar, Martina Navratilova, they have all played and been successful at their respective sports over a prolonged period of time.
But how do we gauge an athlete who has not won as much silverware as the aforementioned greats? Can we scale one’s achievements based on their impact alone?
In Shiva Keshavan’s case, it could safely be said that we can.
The 36-year-old etched his name in the history books after he made his sixth and last appearance in the Winter Olympics at PyeongChang, South Korea. With this, he became the first Indian to appear in six Winter Games.
On the all-time list, Keshavan is only second to tennis great Leander Paes, who has made seven (Summer) Olympics so far.
As he draws the curtains on his long career as a Luger, Keshavan’s achievements have, to some extent, dwarfed all the rest simply because he put the word Luge in the Indian lexicon.
India, a predominantly warm country has little to almost negligible culture in winter sports. Only the Himalayan belt in the northern parts of the country gets natural snow for a few months a year, which diminishes the chances of locals taking up winter sports.
Despite these difficulties, Keshavan has gone on to be the torchbearer of winter sports in India over the last two decades, debuting in the 1998 Nagano Olympics at the age of 16.
Since then, he has gone on to be dubbed as the "fastest Asian on ice" as he notched up 10 medals in the Asia Cup and the Asian Championships -- four golds, four silvers and four bronze.
However, Keshavan did not really come to the Olympics with expectations of winning any medals. His chances were further diminished when he suffered a hairline fracture on his right hand ahead of the PyeongChang Games.
Despite the injury though, Keshavan was not deterred in his approach and carried on his preparation for the Winter Games. For him, it was more about making the appearance for one last time, and for once, with funds from the government to back him.
On previous occasions, India's winter sports icon, by his own admission, has had to explain to federation officials what luge is, and why he would require the funding. From getting funds from businessmen to being crowdfunded, Keshavan has ensured that his Olympic dream was not thwarted by apathy from the federations.
Despite the fact that he has now made his appearance in his last Olympic games, Keshavan's contribution to winter sports has become all the more important now. Not only has he brought luge to the attention of the Indian public, but the documentation of his struggles to make it to international events year after year serves as an inspiration to all those winter sports athletes who are facing difficult times.
Speedskater Stephen Paul had recently told Sportskeeda that he is considering retirement at the age of 26 because he is finding it difficult to motivate himself to carry on with the sport, while spending more time trying to convince the government, the federation, and businessmen to fund his training and travel to tournaments.
On top of that, the Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI) has come under the scanner time again for alleged mismanagement of the various disciplines. Most recently, the WGFI had nominated the names of two officials instead of a coach for Jagdish Singh, the second Indian to qualify for this year's Winter Games (men's singles cross-country skiing).
The matter went so far that the Indian Army, under who's employment Jagdish operates, had even threatened to pull the athlete out of PyeongChang 2018. However, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) stepped in at the right moment and named 2014 Olympian Nadeem Iqbal as Jagdish's coach for the Winter Games.
With events like these hampering the morale of the athletes, the time could be just right for someone like Keshavan to take up an administrative role in the sport and try to bring about a change.
We have already seen former athletes like Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (2004 silver medallist in shooting and current Sports Minister), Sourav Ganguly (former Indian cricket team captain and current Cricket Association of Bengal chief) and Shaji Prabhakaran (ex-footballer and current Delhi Soccer Association president) take control of administration and do admirable jobs at improving in their respective roles.
For winter sports, there is no better person than Keshavan to take up such a role, especially as he is the one everyone else would look up to. Perhaps the likes of Stephen Paul, who is considering retirement from the sport at such an early age, can take heart from such a move and continue to fight for his country's name in the ice-skating rink.