India’s only cross-country skier in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Jagdish Singh, finished his 15km men’s race on Friday, coming in at the 103rd position out of a total of 119 competitors.
On the face of it, the result may not have seemed too impressive, but the 26-year-old had to struggle quite a bit, in order to just make his way to the Olympics.
Firstly, he had just one shot at qualification, which he achieved in Finland, in December last year. Since then, there has been a dark shroud around his participation in the event.
From Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI) officials being named in the Indian contingent instead of his coach Nadeem Iqbal, to missing his flight to PyeongChang, to arriving at the Games just a week before his event, every step has been difficult for Jagdish.
Now, however, it has come to light that he is yet to receive the funds that were promised by the government for his participation in the Winter Games.
“Till now, I am yet to receive any funds. I was told that I am entitled to this money, but there’s been no word from their side as yet. I don’t know who syphoned off my money, but I’ll have to look into it once I get back to India,” said Jagdish with a wry laugh.
Apart from not receiving a single penny from the Indian government, Jagdish was also not provided with basic equipment that one needs in the sub-zero temperatures of PyeongChang. Instead, the 26-year-old carried his own equipment, and the equipment he received from the Army.
“It's minus 24 degrees Celsius here, and all we were given before coming here was a windcheater and a pair of track-pants, which had the India logo,” said Jagdish. “I have my own equipment here, but going around the Olympic village with the India logo on your jackets gives you a special boost.”
While at the games, Jagdish did receive a couple of pieces of equipment – a pair of skis and a pair of shoes, these were given to him just one day prior to his event.
India's Chef De Mission for the Winter Games, Harjinder Singh Jindi, however, claimed that it was because of a tussle between the WGFI and the Indian Army that Jagdish's equipment had not been finalised.
"The IOA basically had to step in at the last moment and finalise who his coach (Nadeem) and what his travel plans would be. Due to the wrangle between the WGFI and the Army, all these got delayed, and we could only purchase his equipment here in Korea," said Jindi.
"When I was told that he did not receive any equipment before coming here, I got the funds sanctioned by the IOA and bought him the equipment that he required. Now, obviously, the manufacturers would not be able to customise his kit and put the Indian flag there on such short notice," the Chef De Mission further said.
Now, as the 26-year-old awaits his flight back to India, he hopes that the WGFI and the IOA send more winter athletes for training abroad.
“We can aim for podium finishes only if we can practice with the foreign skiers and start matching their timings,” says Jagdish. “I really hope that our Indian skiers get more exposure after this.”