In the cult classic ‘Cool Runnings’, a group of Jamaican athletes form an Olympic bobsleigh team, much to the incredulity of all and sundry. In many ways, Shiva Keshavan’s pioneering efforts in Indian luge has drawn a similar response from the authorities who matter. “I have knocked on all doors to get government funding,” the fivetime Olympian and Asian record holder says, “but only a few private enterprises have answered my call.”
Keshavan has had to depend on self-funding and help from private organisations to keep his dream running. It is bearing fruit too. Months after getting a personal coach, American Duncan Kennedy, his first ever in a long career, the athlete claimed silver in the 17th Asian Championships in Nagano, Japan, held on Sunday. He has also qualified for the World Championships next year.
“Kennedy is, for now, forgoing payment as the plan I sent to the government that would have facilitated his pay, has been rejected,” he says.
Keshavan feels he is eligible for the NSDF (National Sports Development Fund) but has been denied it because people fail to take winter sports seriously. “I have heard questions like ‘are the Winter Olympics real?’” he adds with a dose of sarcasm.
However, he refuses to bow down to the negativity and has, along with Kennedy, devised a holistic new training regimen and a four-year plan. “We are upgrading our setup. Am getting used to the new sled. We are changing the geometry. Once I am used to the new setup, we are going to make technological tweaks.”
Keshavan is also working with his coach and the Clarkson University in USA on his aerodynamic configuration. Along with a new setup, his training patterns have also evolved and he is still getting used to the rigorous routines that Kennedy, a 21-time senior medallist for the US, has devised for him.
The race at Nagano came with its own share of odds. “I would have preferred it to be colder, I work better with more ice, the course had a lot of frost in its stead and I had to adjust,” he says. The Japanese Hidenari was racing on home conditions and was in prime form.”
Also, Keshavan was competing against Korean and Japanese athletes who have the full backing of state organisations. His second-place finish proves how he has revelled in his role as the lone ranger in Indian luge.
But clearly, things are in a limbo. “The luge association isn’t recognised. There are many in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Kashmir who are interested in winter sports but see no viable future,” the bitterness is palpable even beyond the veneer of stoicism that he has adopted.
Things, however, need to change for the Keshavans waiting in the wings.