India’s skier Arif Khan poses on the sidelines of a schooling session in Austria previous thirty day period.

Kerstin Joensson /AFP through Getty Illustrations or photos

hide caption

toggle caption

Kerstin Joensson /AFP by means of Getty Images

India’s skier Arif Khan poses on the sidelines of a instruction session in Austria very last thirty day period.

Kerstin Joensson /AFP by using Getty Photographs

MUMBAI – Arif Khan is applied to shocking men and women.

He recalls the appears to be like on people’s faces at final year’s Entire world Alpine Ski Championships in Italy. 1 by 1, giant slalom racers bounded out of the gates atop a steep, snowy incline. They had been mostly Europeans, with their home countries’ flags sewn on to their spandex ski suits: Austria, France, Italy, Germany.

Then arrived Khan, with the identify of his state emblazoned on his shoulder: India. Even the judges were surprised, he states.

“It is funny simply because I have been to four Entire world Championships, and just about every time I have been requested, ‘Is there snowboarding in India?'” Khan, 31, clarifies. “Fellas, we are living in the Himalayas! It truly is the greatest mountain range in the earth. What do you assume?”

Khan is from the Indian-administered aspect of Kashmir, a Himalayan region that is break up concerning India and Pakistan. He discovered to ski when he was four at Gulmarg, an Indian federal government-operate ski vacation resort that features a single of the optimum ski lifts in the earth. His father runs a ski shop there.

Now Khan hopes to surprise persons again, in Beijing – where he’s planning to compete in his 1st-ever Olympic Video games.

But India has never ever won an Olympic medal in any winter season activity. And Khan is the only Indian athlete likely.

To qualify for Beijing, India’s lone Olympian had to crowd-fund his vacation

Khan’s indigenous Kashmir is a conflict zone, wherever Hindu-the vast majority India procedures above a Muslim-the greater part populace, and where troops have fought separatists for a long time. In August 2019, the Indian governing administration canceled the region’s exclusive constitutional standing, flooded its streets with soldiers and law enforcement, slash off the world wide web and arrested 1000’s of locals.

“If one thing is going on that is disturbing at residence, it can be surely on my head. But I want to do well so that I can also have an impression on Kashmiri youth, to encourage them towards their personal ambitions,” Khan instructed NPR in a cellphone interview in late December from Bosnia, where by he was education. “This has usually been my desire.”

In spite of Kashmir’s mountainous spot, it really is not accurately a key worldwide winter season athletics vacation spot. So Khan has had to travel overseas to compete.

But India isn’t going to have an internationally-regarded winter season athletics federation to support athletes. Khan has experienced to crowd-fund his outings to Europe.

“Most of the European skiers get assistance from their governments, and they can journey in a van to the competitions. They are extremely well-funded. The activity is famous in their nations,” Khan claims. “But for me, touring alone from India, it’s definitely high priced.”

That’s a thing Shiva Keshavan also ran up against. He is a six-time Olympic luge racer from northern India. With no a luge monitor, he uncovered by racing his sled down icy Himalayan roads in his hometown of Manali.

“We do not have significantly of a historical past in activity in India in typical. The emotion is that sport is some thing that is elitist, anything that is superfluous,” Keshavan tells NPR.

He and Khan are hoping to alter that. They’ve have been lobbying the Indian governing administration to spend much more in all Olympic sporting activities, and fund athletes.

“It is type of a capture-22 scenario for an athlete, when the govt tells you, ‘Go win a medal and then we’re going to assist you,'” Keshavan suggests. “But you really need the help to get a medal, ideal?”

Which is reflected in India’s Olympic medal count. It can be won significantly less than fifty percent of the medals of Jamaica, for instance, a place with about 3 million people. By contrast, India’s populace is approximately 1.4 billion.

An Indian skier qualifies for the Olympics – at a purchasing mall in Dubai

India’s most thriving Olympians have been field hockey gamers (a summertime activity). It has not despatched a downhill skier to the Olympics because 2014. So Khan shocked his sport and his region when he experienced for the Beijing Games this earlier November.

Khan turned the initially athlete from India to get paid a quota place for the Beijing 2022 Winter season Olympics in the slalom event in alpine skiing.

Kerstin Joensson /AFP through Getty Photos

disguise caption

toggle caption

Kerstin Joensson /AFP by way of Getty Pictures

He also did so in a shocking area: A procuring mall in the desert. Khan’s qualifying operate in the large slalom transpired at a opposition at Ski Dubai – an indoor, refrigerated ski arena that manufactures snow, positioned inside a searching shopping mall in the United Arab Emirates.

“It was the initial time they held an worldwide competitors, and I was invited. Three of us in fact finished up qualifying for the Olympics,” he remembers. “And men and women had been looking at by means of a window from the shopping mall!”

Again household in India, Khan has given that grow to be a nationwide celebrity. His beaming father has been on countrywide Television, chatting about his son’s childhood on skis, and showing off his selection of trophies.

“I am so happy and so is all of Kashmir! Simply because this is the 1st time an individual from Kashmir has skilled [for the Olympics] in snowboarding,” Mohammad Yaseen Khan informed local media in November, just just after his son experienced. “I am absolutely sure he will make India proud.”

Indian media has descended on the family’s Kashmiri village. Reporters are even asking queries about Khan’s appreciate existence, just after an Indian newspaper reported that he had postponed his possess wedding.

“This is like the communicate of the town!” Khan tells NPR, laughing. “Truly, I had to choose whether or not to get married, or to go to the Olympics.”

Khan and his fiancée are even now collectively. She was comprehending, he claims. The Olympics are his aspiration.

And on Feb. 4, that desire is established to appear accurate: Khan will have the Indian flag – and the Olympic hopes of practically 1.4 billion Indians – into the opening ceremony in Beijing, all by himself.

NPR producer Sushmita Pathak contributed to this report.

Leave a Reply