Tuesday, January 23, 2018
facebook

google plus


Warming up to winter games

For several decades, indifference and ignorance have kept snow sports struggling to find traction in Indian minds. Can Aanchal Thakur's recent international skiing medal, India's first-ever, be a game changer?21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

The battery of my phone has died five times since this morning. I’ve never spoken so much on the phone,” says Roshan Thakur. He sounds tired but the joy and excitement coursing through his veins do not let him stop.

[ + read story ]

Subhash Rajta

The battery of my phone has died five times since this morning.  I’ve never spoken so much on the phone,” says Roshan Thakur. He sounds tired but the joy and excitement coursing through his veins do not let him stop. So, for the umpteenth time, the proud father recounts his daughter’s historic feat all over again. His daughter, 21-year-old Aanchal Thakur, has won India's first-ever international medal in skiing, a bronze, in Turkey.

The phone has not stopped ringing since January 9. Congratulations are pouring in as are the calls for interviews to the media. Her win has triggered off an avalanche of praise and congratulatory messages that probably no other winter sports athlete has received till date.

About a week later after her dream run, sitting in her home at Manali, Aanchal still finds it hard to believe what she has achieved, and the reactions her feat has triggered. "It still feels like a dream, both wining the medal and what happened after that. I was extremely happy when I won the medal, but its significance dawned upon me the next day when I saw the Prime Minister and other top dignitaries tweeting for me," says Aanchal.

For Thakur, Aanchal's medal has brought double delight. As a father, he is proud of his daughter; and as the secretary of the Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI), he is overjoyed with the buzz the medal has created about winter sports across the country. After all, indifference and ignorance have kept winter sports out in the cold for several decades. The sport has been desperately waiting for a breakthrough feat to break the perception that it's merely a pastime of a few adventurous types, not a serious sport; and to catch the attention of the masses and decision-makers.

Of course, Shiva Keshavan has been around for two decades and is all set to make a record sixth appearance at the Winter Olympic Games at Pyeongchang, in South Korea next month. That makes him an absolute legend, but his sport, luge, is relatively lesser known in India. Hence, he hasn’t been able to spark the much-needed interest in winter sports. 

Game changer 

Aanchal’s medal, however, seems to have the potential to become a game-changer for winter sports. And her father, as well as others associated with winter sports, appear to have sensed it. “There was absolutely no recognition for winter sports athletes, nor any support and encouragement from the government till now,” says Thakur. “But Aanchal’s medal has brought winter sports into limelight like never before. It has been appreciated by the Prime Minister, many other dignitaries, and the general public. This makes us hope that the government will take our sport more seriously now and offer us the required support.” 

Besides, he feels, Aanchal’s medal will motivate and encourage several aspiring and upcoming skiers. “The government has announced a cash award for her, a massive function was organised in her honour when she returned home. All this will motivate and inspire many other kids to push harder,” adds Thakur.

Poor infrastructure 

Even as this skiing medal is probably the best thing to have happened to winter sports in a long time, it is unlikely to change much, at least in a foreseeable future, for winter sports have been on a downhill slope for a long, long time.  “Despite the medal, which is, of course, a great thing to happen, winter sports is still where it was 30 years back,” says Ludar Thakur, a national coach and former national-level skier. “All this interest and attention is fine, but all this brouhaha will mean nothing if it doesn’t translate into facilities at the grassroots level for our budding skiers and other athletes.” 

“Our skiers need to go abroad to train. Given how much it costs and the meagre resources the federation has, we can send only a handful kids for training. Frankly, that’s not going to change anything for the sport,” adds Ludar.

Thakur concurs with him. “We need to have quality ski resorts, a couple of slopes in the country to be certified by the Federation Internationale de Ski. It will ensure our skiers can train at home, and we can host at least one or two international events in a year. This will help our skiers earn ranking points to qualify for major international tournaments,” he says. “At the moment, all skiers need to go abroad to train and participate in international events, and only a handful can afford that.”

That’s, of course, not a very rosy scenario. And unless we want winter sports to sink back in the sea of obscurity from which Aanchal has pulled it out, everyone concerned will need to make a massive effort to get the sport rolling on Indian slopes.


“I hope my medal becomes a turning point” 

The last two weeks have been full of surprises for Aanchal Thakur. The petite girl from Manali surprised herself and many others by winning India’s first-ever international medal in skiing. She is also surprised to see everyone, including the Prime Minister, taking note and celebrating her feat. Having seen the unprecedented interest her win has generated, Aanchal hopes that it becomes a “turning point” for the sport in the country...

You called your win unexpected. Why?

That’s because of the difference in the support and facilities our competitors get, and what we get. My competitors get to train for around eight to 10 months in a year; whereas in India, we can train for just two to three months. I was hopeful of having a good race, but I wasn’t expecting to win a medal so early in my career.

Were you surprised by the reactions ?

To be honest, it was more surprising than winning. I had not thought even in my dreams that one day the Prime Minister will tweet for me. 

 Can this victory ring in good days for the largely ignored winter sports?

I hope my medal will prove to be the turning point for the sport. I am also hopeful that the government will offer us more support and facilities. Like other athletes, we also work hard to get better at our sport and represent the nation at international stage. So, we should get the support and facilities the other sportspersons get. I am hopeful things will change now. 

How did your competitors react to seeing you on the podium?

Well, they were surprised too. Because they know we don’t get the kind of facilities that they get. So, yes, they were surprised. They keep telling me they want to come to India for skiing in the Himalayas. Hopefully, we will soon be able to host an international tournament.

What are your goals now? What would you tell the upcoming skiers?

Just keep following your passion. You never know what can happen with you. It has happened with me, so it can happen to you as well. As for my goals, I obviously want to win many more medals for the country, and represent the country at the Olympics. That’s my biggest dream now.

Warming up to 
winter gamesSkier skiing downhill in high mountains against sunset,Dragobrat,Ukraine
Going strong on a downhill track

Going strong on a downhill track

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

He is a six-time Olympian. India’s only regular representative at six Winter Games. Yet, in a country bereft of global sporting heroes, he occupies our mind space only once every four years. Shiva Keshavan, the luger, is once again set for a journey he has traversed all by himself since 1997.

The dawn of spring

The dawn of spring

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

There was a time when Kashmir was green and beautiful. There was a time when tall pine trees, gushing streams, splendid houseboats and films stars romancing on shikaras made up for strokes on Kashmir’s canvas.

The feel of luxury’ART & SOUL

The feel of luxury

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

They begin to prepare for this feast (the Emperor Aurangzeb’s birthday celebrations), the seventh of September, about two months before it begins. The first thing they do is to cover the two great Courts overhead, from the middle of each Court to the Hall, which is open upon three sides.

Heritage lost in smart cities

Heritage lost in smart cities

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

Cities are built by its people, by infrastructure and by services. But cities are built on their past. If not, what would Delhi be without Lal Qila; Jaipur without Hawa Mahal; and Chandigarh without Capitol Complex.

Arts, last Sunday...
How India ‘created’ its many gurus

How India ‘created’ its many gurus

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

When RSS ideologues declared some years ago that everyone in India is a Hindu, it opened up the way for extended discussions on who is a Hindu and what might Hinduism mean.

The first working women of Hindi films

The first working women of Hindi films

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

At last! Here’s an acknowledgement of the social-cultural-economic importance of a class of women, who have, since the inception of Indian cinema, played a vital role in it. And since cinema is but a reflection of society, the opposite is naturally true as well.

The girl who survived hell

The girl who survived hell

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

In her much-acclaimed speech at the Golden Globe Awards recently, the winner of Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement, Oprah Winfrey, lauded the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their stories as “...speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have”.

A tale of greed, ambition & murder

A tale of greed, ambition & murder

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

THE Sheena Bora case hogged the headlines involving as it did a high-profile media tycoon and his ambitious wife for whom means justified the end. Indrani Bora, a small-town girl, uses a practical approach to life, to escape from the confines of Guwahati to the slick company of the glitterati in Mumbai and Delhi.

SHORT TAKES

SHORT TAKES

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

ONE of the major objectives of Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, which imparts training to Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, is not only to sensitise them towards the plight of rural people but also to equip them with an indepth understanding of rural issues.

Books Reviews, last Sunday...
Hollywood proposes
Bollywood disposes

Hollywood proposes Bollywood disposes

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

May we teach our children that speaking out without the fear of retribution is our culture’s new North Star,” said Laura Dern at the Golden Globe Awards 2018.

Hope in the time of darkness

Hope in the time of darkness

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

It is in black and white. Its characters speak English. And it has no stars. But A Billion Colour Story is as compelling a film as any.

Entertainment, last Sunday...
Finding Austen across the border

Finding Austen across the border

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

One does not usually expect Pakistani women to dress up in Regency style and have tea parties, discussing, not just Jane Austen, but how her themes are still so relevant and prevalent in present-day Pakistan.

Railways can’t take you for a rideCONSUMERS BEWARE!

Railways can’t take you for a ride

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

After charging for an air conditioned coach, if the Railways fail to provide proper air conditioning or provide an AC coach, can the passengers seek compensation from the Railways for the deficient service and also for the agony caused to the passengers? My family and I suffered as a result of such deficient service last summer and I want compensation for one of the worst train journeys that we undertook as a result.

Where there’s smoke, there’s flavourFOOD TALK

Where there’s smoke, there’s flavour

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

Many of us live under the illusion that ‘smoked’ stuff is part of foreign culinary culture and we have always been happy with fried, roasted or boiled food.

Society, last Sunday...
Canada’s highway to heaven

Canada’s highway to heaven

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

American poet and author Ella Wheeler Wilcox once said, “So many gods, so many creeds. So many paths that wind and wind, while just the art of being kind is all the sad world needs.”

Unwinding in the lap of nature in Pollachi

Unwinding in the lap of nature in Pollachi

21 Jan 2018 | 1:39 AM

Stunning landscapes, carpets of velvety tea gardens, cascading waterfalls and lush forests are just some of the things you can expect on a visit to Pollachi in Tamil Nadu.

Travel, last Sunday...