India has now made its 11th appearance at the Beijing Olympics 2022. In comparison to the Summer Olympics, where India has competed in 25 editions, India’s appearances at the Winter Olympics have been few and far between. In 1900, India made its Olympic debut, with a single athlete, Norman Pritchard, earning two silver medals in athletics and becoming the first Asian nation to win an Olympic medal. India took 40 years to send its first athlete to the quadrennial extravaganza, despite the fact that the Winter Games began in 1924.
Here’s a look at the remarkable Indians that have held the flag high in the Winter Olympics from time to time.
At the 1964 Winter Olympics in Austria, Jeremy Bujakowski was India’s first and only athlete. He competed in the men’s downhill alpine skiing event as the lone Indian at that edition. Jeremy Bujakowski, who was born in Lithuania to Polish parents before relocating to India and spending time in the United States for his education, had far greater exposure to winter sports than the ordinary Indian at the time. Jeremy Bujakowski didn’t finish his race at the 1964 Games but returned in 1968 to compete in three events: men’s downhill, slalom, and giant slalom. This time, he finished 53rd and 65th in the downhill and giant slalom competitions, respectively. For the next 20 years after the Bujakowski era, India did not compete in the Winter Olympics.
When India competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Canada, in the midst of a male-dominated era came Shailaja Kumar as the first Indian woman to compete in the Winter Olympics. The Indian alpine skier was born on January 17, 1967, in India, and she had always shown an interest in the sport. Her incredible performance in the 1988 Winter Olympics wowed the entire world with her superb traversal talents, along with her powerful telemarks. Shailaja Kumar made history by becoming the first Indian woman to compete in the Winter Olympics, placing 28th in the women’s slalom.
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The next time India sent a woman to the Winter Olympics was in 2006 when Neha Ahuja competed in the women’s slalom and giant slalom events at the Winter Olympics in Italy. The Indian alpine skier was also the flag bearer at the opening and closing ceremonies. She has set a number of records in the sport of skiing for India. She is the first Indian woman to qualify for the Olympic Winter Games. She is also the first woman to qualify for the Olympics in both slalom and giant slalom. At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Ahuja was one of four Indians competing and finished in 51st place. Neha Ahuja is the first Indian woman to reach the minimum qualification standards for the Winter Olympics.
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Shailaja Kumar was given an invitational spot. Shailaja Kumar and Neha Ahuja are India’s only two female Winter Olympians to date.
Shiva Keshavan is a six-time Olympian and the first Indian luge athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics. He won a gold medal in the 2011 Asian Luge Cup in Nagano, Japan, after setting a new Asian speed record of 134.3 km/h. At the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, he qualified for the first time. Shiva Keshavan was the youngest luger to qualify for the Winter Olympics at the time when he was only 16 years old. Since then, Keshavan has competed in five additional Winter Olympics, making him India’s most decorated Winter Olympian. He announced his retirement after the 2018 Winter Games.
Mohammad Arif Khan
Mohammad Arif Khan became the first Indian athlete to gain a quota spot in the slalom event of alpine skiing for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in November. For the alpine skier from Jammu and Kashmir, the feat fulfilled a lifelong desire. In Beijing 2022, Mohammad Arif Khan will be India’s only representative. The Indian alpine skier, who is from Jammu and Kashmir, is the first Indian athlete to qualify for two separate Winter Games sports in a single edition. Khan began competitive skiing at the age of ten and steadily progressed through the ranks. On February 13, he will compete in the giant slalom, and on February 16, he will compete in the slalom.
Featured Image Credits – Fortune