Aanchal Thakur scripted history on Wednesday after she became the first Indian to win a medal at an international skiing event. The 21-year-old from Himachal Pradesh clinched bronze at the Alpine Ejder 3200 Cup in Turkey, organised by the International Ski Federation (FIS). She was competing in the slalom race category.
Speaking exclusively to the indianexpress.com from Turkey, Thakur expressed happiness that her efforts have finally borne fruit but added that she did not expect an international medal so soon. Now she firmly believes that her feat may well be the turning point for winter sports in India. Winter sports in India has failed to get much recognition, given that facilities are limited and snowfall is limited to certain parts of the country. But for Aanchal the road ahead seems more optimistic than it was before.
Hailing from a small village in Manali, Aanchal started skiing from the tender age of seven under the tutelage of her father, Roshan Thakur. “My father was a national champion in skiing and so he kept encouraging me and my brother (Himanshu Thakur). When we were young, skiing was for fun. But with age, we started considering it professionally.”
Under the guidance of her father and former Olympian, Heera Lal, Aanchal started training in the Solang valley. “But the lack of facilities out there was a hindrance for us. We had to climb up 500-800 meters with our heavy pieces of equipment and that was an arduous task. Hence, we ended up doing only 4 to 5 runs in a day.” Added to that, there was no provision for a grooming machine (to smoothen the ice) and hence she had to take the risk of skiing on an uneven terrain.
However, not the one to back off from a challenge, Aanchal kept her passion alive as she was sent to train in foreign countries like Italy and Austria. It was her father who bore all the expenses as there was no government support forthcoming.
Ruing this fact Roshan Thakur, said, “In India, importance is primarily given to summer sports as winter sports are left in the lurch. We neither get proper sponsorships nor funding. Added to that is the cost of equipment. A pair of ski itself is worth Rs 80,000 to 90,000 and combining the entire gear the cost rises to almost Rs 5 lakhs. But what she has achieved today has made me extremely proud.”
Aanchal’s achievements have also been acknowledged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said that the entire nation is celebrating with her. Thanking the Prime Minister for his wishes, Aanchal also made an appeal to the PM for better infrastructure in India so that athletes do not have to keep traveling outside for training. “I am delighted that the Prime Minister sent his wishes. While I am extremely happy, I also want to make an appeal for better facilities. If we get a proper resort with grooming equipment then Indian skiers can go a long way.”
Meanwhile, the road ahead is not very easy for Aanchal because she hasn’t yet qualified for the Winter Olympics and the next few days are going to be very difficult for her. “I want to participate in the 2018 Winter Games but it will be a very difficult task to accomplish.”
Explaining the reason behind it, Aanchal said that to qualify she has to score less than 140 points in 5 races. But unfortunately, she has only 10 days remaining. With the cut-off date being January 21, time is absolutely insufficient for her but Aanchal has promised to give her best. However, she hopes that her brother (Himanshu) manages to make the cut as he has only one race to complete.
If not in 2018, Aanchal has her sight fixed on the 2022 Winter Olympics, which she believes is a realistic target. For that, she promises to train harder from now and expects to have adequate facilities at home. “Foreign athletes train for six to seven months, World Champions train for nine to 10 months. Whereas in India we only get to train for three to four months. This difference can be reduced by better provisions. Places like Rohtang has snow till July. But since it does not have any chairlifts or proper slopes we can’t utilize it. I am certain the scenario will change soon. My medal will be the turning point for Winter Sports in India,” she signed off.