A year after doing the country proud by becoming the first Indian luge athlete to clinch the Asian Championship title, Shiva Keshavan did an encore, setting an Asian record of 49.590 seconds in Nagano (Japan) on Sunday.
It wasn't a cakewalk for the doughty Himachal speed junkie as
he was tailing Japan's Hidenari Kanayama in second place with a time difference of 0.129 seconds.
In fact, the Indian had strong competition from last year's runner-up, Oguchi Takahisa, as well, who was not far behind in third place, with only 0.058 seconds separating the two.
The level of competition can be gauged from the fact that each of the top-three broke the track record of 50.072 set in 2004. Shiva toppled the scores in the second heat, smashing the Asian track record by 0.482 seconds, and despite the disadvantage from the first run, the Indian won by a considerable margin.
Yamaura Yohan of Japan came fourth and Kim Dong Hyeon of Korea finished fifth.
"I lost control of the sled for a moment in the first run at Curve 6, but I managed to avoid a crash. The track conditions were very different from what we experienced this week but we were prepared for any eventuality.
"I knew the moment I finished the second run that it would be extremely difficult for the others to catch up with me. I'm glad all the preparation of the team paid off at the right moment, and that the Cup is coming back to India," an elated Keshavan said in an e-mail from Nagano after the second run.
The champion now holds two of the three Asian records, with only the start record of 3.190 seconds set in 1999 still remaining to be vanquished.
Seeing the level of competition, the International Luge Federation vice-president for Asia, Korea's Jae-Ho Chung, said, "We can see that the level of Asian athletes has risen tremendously in recent years. With the 2018 Winter Olympic Games to be held in Korea, we can expect athletes from Asia to dominate this field," said Chung.
The Asian record set by Keshavan is only 0.017 seconds adrift of the Olympic record set in Nagano. And, the confident luger hoped to break that too, saying, "Definitely, with the right conditions for training, and the right facilities, the future seems promising." Keshavan is supported by Olympic Gold Quest among others.
Results: 1. Shiva Keshavan (Ind) 1:39.631; Hidenari Kanayama (Jpn) 1:40.086 (+0.455); 3. Oguchi Takahisa (Jpn) 1:40.150 (+0.519).
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