Imagine lying face-up on a sled that can reach 150kmph on ice tracks with only calves and shoulders to help you steer. Feel free to mouth 'whoa' to the life of Shiva Keshavan, who struck gold at the Asia Cup (Nagano, Japan) last week, in luge, an extreme sport that has been a competitive category at the Winter Olympics since the 1964 Games in Innsbruck.
Interestingly, the 30-year-old luger, who went to Nagano with minimal practice due to a spinal injury, also set the continental speed record when he clocked 134.3 kmph, smashing the previous best of 131.9 kmph.
"Typically, there's five to six months of physical training and three months of ice-training. I had two months of conditioning and just three weeks on the ice. Unlike other lugers, who came after participating in the World Cup and other events, I missed out on a lot of practice time, so it's ironic that things worked out for me," Keshavan told HT, adding, "The feeling of 'having nothing to lose' drove me on and I think the win helped me recover quicker!"
A national skiing champion at 14, the Manali-born feels winter sports have tremendous potential in India. "Skiing and sledding have always been big in Manali and Gulmarg. With a little support from the government, talent programmes can be arranged to identify potential athletes," said Keshavan, who was introduced to luge through a talent scout camp conducted by Austrian luger Gunter Lemmerer, which he was sent to by his school.
It isn't a cheap thrill though. A typical sled (also called a luge) will set you back by at least Rs25,000 for a beginner-level sled and up to Rs5 lakh for a professional one.
Keshavan's sponsors, MTS, also appear firm in their backing. "We are committed to supporting Shiva till Sochi (where the 2014 winter Olympics will be held) and beyond. There is a connect between the brand and speed," said MTS brand-manager Amitesh Rao.