Shiva Keshavan is a luge pilot. He is also Indias only professional Winter Games specialist. But after 12 years and three Olympics,Keshavan is still an unknown name for most people.
His achievements include being the youngest luge Olympian (17 years at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics) and winning Indias first medal in winter sports (silver in doubles at the 2005-06 Asian championships) but,unfortunately,the 28-year-old is still without a coach.
Whatever I have achieved is through observation. I keep learning on my own and after all these years,I have a fair idea of what needs to be done. But participating in world cups and international meets without a proper coach is a big drawback, Keshavan says,though he often gets tips from French coach Yann Fricheteau.
Last year was the first time he had corporate sponsorship from Coca-Cola,and he ended up winning bronze at the Asian Championships. And the boy from Manali is aiming for gold this time around. I am now within one second of the best in the business,but every fraction of a second matters in a sport where you can touch speeds of up to 150kmph. I have been continually improving but I need support to break into the elite group of top racers in the world, he says.
His best performance in the Olympics was at Turin in 2006 where he finished 25th. But his world ranking hovers around the mid-40s,primarily because of his inability to participate in more tournaments.
I am thankful to my parents for supporting me all this while,but they also have their limitations. I am able to participate in the World Cups because of travel sponsorship but beyond that there is nothing. Luge is a highly technical sport (like Formula One) and the right equipment can make a lot of difference.
I have had talks with the sports ministry and some corporates,hopefully things will work out before I leave, he says. Keshavan will be leaving on September 12 for training in Europe ahead of the Asian championships in December.
Luge,for the uninitiated,is considered a sophisticated form of sledging on an artificial ice track 1.5 km long with the athlete steering the sled and negotiating obstacles in a supine position at high speeds.
However,unlike most other athletes who prefer concentrating on their own careers during their peak,Keshavan is already involved in developing winter sports in the country. Earlier this year,he was associated with a talent scout programme and is now trying to convince the Himachal Pradesh government to develop a proper track in the state.
We have all the prerequisites to develop an international standard race track. If that happens,it will only be the second such track in Asia (after Nagano in Japan) and not will that help bring the best winter sports athletes to the country,it will also help in developing the sport and attracting tourism and revenue, he points out.