Shiva Keshavan is accustomed to cold receptions wherever he travels he is India’s leading Winter Olympian competing in luge,and as such is always in close proximity with endless sheets of ice. What he hasn’t quite fathomed yet is why while heading into his fourth Olympics now at Sochi in 2014 he’s still grappling with deficiencies in technical expertise in a country that brims with engineering talent.
In the past few months,the two-time Asian gold medallist and Asian Speed Record holder,has approached a multitude of institutions to find answers to pressing questions on aerodynamics as well as figuring out dampening and better performing materials such as the quality of steel that works for different temperatures of ice,as he tries to shave milliseconds off his sliding time,slowly and painstakingly. Yet,with less than six months left for the Games,Keshavan’s pre-season training remains a mixture of trial-and-error self-testing and bad old jugaad,even as the Italians and Germans get into finetune-mode.
In his last training at Norway,where Keshavan shared a session with the Italians,his timing was 51.420 seconds while Armin Zoeggeler,an ex-Olympic champion clocked 50.827 seconds,only 0.6 seconds ahead. The gap,though,will widen further and not just because a lot can change between training and races.
Performance in Luge depends heavily on technical nous,and German double-medallist Georg Hackl has ensured that no luger can ignore this fundamental of the sport,after his collaboration with chassis and aerodynamics specialists from German automakers set the stage for high-tech sleds in the sport meaner,faster and sleeker designed equipment that had as much R&D behind it as the super cars that whizzed across autobahns. Italians relished the challenge,and went into huddles of their own.
It’s almost de rigueur for sliders and skiiers now to explore the limits of their equipments in wind-tunnel testing,even as they pore over carbon-fiber composites,and turn up with five varieties of customised steels for the runners for different ice surfaces and weather conditions.
Keshavan still relies on his in-house engineering team to tinker with the pods,bridges and steels of his sled. But with his limited budget not enough to pay for a personal coach,he remains a lonely luger figuring out the best lines and fiddling with his equipment all on his own.
Shivani is an assistant editor based in Mumbai
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