For 38-year-old Shiva Keshavan, it took six Winter Olympics, career spanning over 22 years and many Asian and world records to fetch Arjuna Award, the very first National Sports Award in the winter sports category.
Be it skiing, snowboarding, luge or any other winter sports, no athlete had won a national sports award until Saturday when country’s only professional luger Shiva Keshavan was awarded with Arjuna Award for his contribution to the winter sports. Keshwan, the fastest man on ice in Asia, received this award from the President Ram Nath Kovind in a virtual ceremony at Delhi on Saturday.
Resident of Manali, Shiva Keshavan is six-time Olympian and recipient of 10 medals including four gold in international luge championships. He sustained his career as a professional luger for 22 years mostly by crowdfunding and could not participate in any championship for two years due to financial crisis. He was among the 29 athletes who were recommended for Arjuna award by Union Sports Ministry.
Shiva Keshavan was the youngest athlete in the world to qualify for 1998 Winter Olympics in luge at age of just 16. Since then, he participated in consecutive six Olympics. He has won four gold, four silver and two bronze in Asian Championships in Nagano, Japan and Altenberg, Germany from 2005 to 2017.
Shiva Keshavan still holds the unbeatable Asian speed record of 134.3 km per hour. This is why he is called the fastest man on the ice in Asia.
While other athletes received national sports award in well known sports, this is for the first time that government recognised a winter athlete for this award. As a sport, very few people in India have heard about luge. Despite being the first Indian to win award in international sports and even setting Asian records, Keshavan has been victim to government apathy for year.
“Finally years of my hard work is getting recognition. I think I could have done better if I had government support since the very beginning of my career. I am thankful to the members of selection committee for giving me this opportunity. It means a lot to me.
Hopefully this will help in the improvement of the winter sports infrastructure in the country. Now I will concentrate on helping other athletes in preparations for winter Olympics,” Shiva Keshavan said.
Keshavan is presently president of Olympians Association of India and chief coach of national team by Luge Federation of India. He was the first Indian to ever win an international medal in winter sports and is the only athlete from the country to qualify for Olympics in luge.
The story of Shiva Keshavan qualifying for Winter Olympics for the first time in 1998 till getting this prestigious award is full of struggle and hard work. Though he participated in over 100 world championships, Asian cups and other international tournaments, but always remained in the financial crisis for his sports gears, travel and training expenses.
Shiva Keshavan could not participate in any championship for two years due to lack of funding. Given his skills and zeal for the sport, the Italian luge team had once offered him all support in return of representing Italy but Keshavan denied saying that he will keep representing India only.
While luge is a popular sport in many countries, India does not have even a single luge track. The sled used in luge being very expensive, Shiva could not afford to have one. Initially he fitted small tyres to his sled and rehearsed on the steep roads of the Himalayas with indigenous luge.
He had to visit other countries for proper training on luge tracks as there was huge difference in road and ice track. Government did not recognise his talent and did not fund his training. He then started crowdfunding to sustain his career.
Although Shiva Keshavan is not participating in 2022 Winter Olympics, he now plans to coach the young talents of the country to send them to Olympics.
“I’ll be coaching the other athletes. I’m also in talks with the officials and politicians at Centre for improvement in winter sports infrastructure. I also wish to support the state winter games associations. I dream about a world-class winter sports training center in the country, preferably in my home town Manali, so that our athletes need not to visit abroad for training,” he added.
Keshavan’s father hails from Kerala and his mother is from Italy who run a restaurant at Vashisht in Manali. He was born and brought up in Manali. Initially, he showed interest in skiing but later chosen to go ahead with fastest and most dangerous winter sport luge under the guidance of Austrian luge champion Gunther Lemmerer.