Shiva Keshavan grew up in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, and until he was 14 years old, hadn't heard of the sport Luge. Yet, given a shot at it, he fell in love with it immediately, and just two years later, qualified for the Winter Olympics.
Back in 1998, he could not enter the Olympic games village in Nagano in Japan as the Indian government hadn't sent the required papers recognising him. Twenty years hence, Shiva has come a long way and the six-time Olympian is now known as the fastest Asian on ice.
What he has achieved in the last two decades is remarkable, especially considering he did not have a coach until three years ago.
Shiva was born in Manali to an Indian father - Sudhakaran, and Italian mother - Rosalba. He was 14 when the International Luge Federation came to India in search of talent, and the members were impressed with what they saw in the teenager.
Luge is one of the most dangerous sports, but that did not bother the young Shiva. In an interview with ESPN, he said
I hadn't heard of the sport before, but it had everything that I identified with - speed, thrill, adventure, technical ability, and apparently I had a talent for it too!
At that time, he did not realise his talent would not be recognised in his own country, even after winning several medals for India, and that he would find it tough to find sponsors. Shiva has participated in six Winter Olympics, and has won three gold, four silver and three bronze medals in Asian cups and championships, earning the title 'Fastest Asian on Ice'.
Though India worships cricket, most other sports take a backseat in the country. The situation for Luge, and even other winter games is worse as India does not have a luge track. Talking about some difficulties he has had to face in the past, Shiva told The Indian Express,
For many years, I would borrow or rent a sled for the race or training. I would train on my own, because I didn’t have a coach. I would save up on car rentals and flights, asking for lifts from one place to another. Other teams would fly, and send their equipment on a bus. I would hitch a ride on the bus to reach the venue. I’ve had to sleep in parked cars, to not go to a hotel. When you’re in that position, you do what you can.
After carrying the Indian flag for one last time at the Pyeongchang Games, the 36-year-old has retired from Winter Olympics. He now wants to work towards getting Indians passionate about sports, and get what he could not - support, recognition and appreciation.
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