Profiling the Indian participants at the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014

Author : Ritabrata Banerjee


India have been officially barred from participating in the Winter Olympics which is scheduled to take place in Sochi, Russia from 7th to 23rd February. The International Olympic Committee had suspended the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) in 2012, and the suspension can only be lifted when the IOA holds fresh elections for its office bearers, which is not going to happen before the start of the Games.

All of which means that there won’t be any official Indian representation at the Sochi Olympics.

But even though India’s flag won’t be seen at Sochi next month, Indians will still be able to watch three of their countrymen doing their best to win a medal at the event.

Shiva Keshavan, Himanshu Thakur and Nadeem Iqbal are the three Indians who will be participating at the Winter Olympics, playing as independent athletes under the Olympic flag, instead of the Indian flag.

Here is a profile of each of these Indian athletes who would be present at Sochi on 7th February.

Shiva Keshavan

Shiva Keshavan

Shiva Keshavan

Age: 32

Category: luge

Claim to fame: 1st Indian to represent country at Winter Olympics; youngest-ever luge participant

Hailing from Manali, Himachal Pradesh, Shiva Keshavan has been representing India internationally as luge pilot since 1997. He became the youngest-ever luge participant at the 1998 Olympics when he entered the event as a 16-year-old.

He was the sole Indian representative at that edition of the Winter Olympics in Japan, where he came 28th. Also, he was the only Indian athlete at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, USA, where he finished 33rd. Keshavan finished 25th at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, and 31st (first run*) and 28th (second run*) at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.

* During major national and international events, men’s singles consists of four runs. The cumulative time of all runs is used to determine finish order. 

Among his other achievements, Keshavan has won gold medals at the Asia Cup 2011 and 2012 in Nagano. He is the Asian Speed Record Holder – 134.3 km/h (83.5 mph), and the Asian Track Record Holder – 49.590 seconds. In addition, he was a silver medallist at the Asian Championships 2009-10 in Nagano, and a bronze medallist at the Asian Championships 2008-09, again in Nagano.

Keshavan’s personal best till date is a 14th place finish at the Nations Cup in Altenberg, January 2009.

His top speed is 149.9 km/h (93.1 mph) (Vancouver Speed Record).

As the most accomplished player of the three-member contingent, Keshavan will be the country’s best hope to grab a medal at the Games.

Himanshu Thakur

Himanshu Thakur on the left

Himanshu Thakur

Age: 20

Category: Alpine Skiing

Claim to fame: Outperformed cousin and former Olympian Hira Lal in run-up to the Games

There were initially two contenders in the Alpine Skiing category – Himanshu Thakur and Hira Lal. As India has been handed only one quota place in this category, only one athlete could participate here, and Thakur was chosen ahead of his cousin Hira Lal.

Thakur also hails from Manali, Himachal Pradesh. His father Roshan Lal Thakur is the secretary of the Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI). While the decision as to which of the cousins should be sent to the Games was being made, Hira Lal himself decided to step back in order to give his brother a chance.

But there was a solid reason for Lal to do so. Thakur has had a better record than Lal in terms of finishes over the past 20 events, having finished higher than him on eight out of the 12 occasions where both skiiers completed the race. His best position was 12th, while Hira Lal’s was 16th. As per the international federation point system, Himanshu’s score was 111.20 and Hira Lal’s was 111.43 – with lower being the better.

“Himanshu had better performances than Hira in the giant slalom category. Hira has always supported Himanshu and made it clear in writing that he preferred his younger cousin to participate in the Games this time,” said Roshan Lal Thakur, Himanshu’s father. “His timings have been encouraging and we’re looking to him to win medals at Asian Championships in the future,” he added.

Having emerged as the best current Alpine skier in the family, Thakur will be hoping to make his family and country proud at the Sochi Games.

Nadeem Iqbal

Nadeem Iqbal

Nadeem Iqbal

Age: 30

Category: Crosscountry Skiing

Claim to fame: 1st Kashmiri soldier to participate in Winter Olympics

Nadeem Iqbal is a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry. He serves with the High Altitude Warfare School of the Indian Army at Gulmarg. He is the first Kashmiri soldier to participate in the Winter Olympics.

Iqbal got his ticket to Sochi after he qualified at the Federation Internationale Ski Nordic Qualifying Races in Italy and France in November and December of 2013 respectively.

Iqbal belongs to Bharot village in Rajouri and joined the Army in March 2003. His physical fitness and skiing potential saw him being selected by HAWS instructors in 2004 for ski training.

Iqbal won the gold medal in the first South Asian Winter Games held in Uttarakhand in 2011, and stood fourth in the Asian Winter Games in Almaty, Kazakhstan, that same year. His medal performances in the Asian Games earned him a promotion to havaldar, and if he wins an Olympic medal he might even be promoted to the rank of junior commissioned officer.

Iqbal also participated in the Nordic World Championship in February 2013.

Colonel Satya Pal Malik, who is in charge of the Armi ski team, said this about Iqbal: ”Iqbal has all the potential to win a medal for the country even though the competition is very tough and foreign players have more exposure and training than him. We have faith in him,”