Indian Iceman

Luge pilot Shiva Keshavan with his wife and guide Namita.-V.V. KRISHNAN

Having made a name for himself overseas in a sport that most in India do not follow or understand, Shiva Keshavan is a star in his own right, writes Vijay Lokapally.

The sledge whirrs past you in a flash. The speed on ice is blistering but Shiva Keshavan’s countenance is astonishingly calm. Luge is a demanding sport, physically and mentally. He knows it well, having pursued it with a diligence that speaks for his resolve. What if he remains unsung in this cricket-crazy nation? He is a champion of rare breed.

In the tranquil surroundings of Manali, this gutsy 31-year-old is a household name. He is one of their own. Having made a name for himself overseas in a sport that most in India do not follow or understand, Keshavan is a star. He remains humble to the core, speaking more for the sport than himself.

“Sport is important in the development of a county. Sport means health and these two factors dictate your life. Sport is about how you compete and improve without cheating,” is Keshavan’s simple philosophy. It is quite effective too!

The Asian title in Nagano, Japan, is a huge boost for this Luge racer. “It was an exacting race,” he recalls. “The competition was tough. All three top finishers broke the previous record. The curves were slippery but I managed to hold on. I took ½ second off the record and that means a lot. For the Japanese it was a shocker.”

Keshavan was the defending champion and knew he had a “good chance” to win. Like cycling, Luge is a very technical sport. “The start is the key. You have to put a lot of power at the start because that dictates how you maintain the momentum,” says Keshavan, who battled a shoulder injury when preparing for the event. The sport requires a strong combination of shoulder, hands and legs.

For sports scribe Jasvinder Singh Sidhu, the subject proved fascinating and he came up with the best tribute to Keshavan’s toil, a superbly made 25-minute documentary that eulogises and documents Keshavan’s hard work and rise in this winter sport. “It feels nice to be recognised,” gushes Keshavan.

Chasing a dream. Shiva Keshavan on a practice run during the men's singles luge training session at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. His dream remains unfulfilled after four attempts, but Keshavan is positive.-AP

The challenge for him and Namita, his wife and guide, is trying to cope with the increasing technological demands. Namita, who gave up a career in economics to help him achieve his goals, says, “The Germans have done 25 years of research in this event and we have to compete to acquire the latest technological training. It is technical and psychological.”

Namita and Keshavan studied at Lawrence School, Sanawar. “We never met in school,” Namita reminisces. “We knew he was a sportsman but I never thought someday I would be his wife. He is a very sincere and honest person.”

For Namita nothing thrills her more than Keshavan talking of her and Luge as the two most important aspects of his life.

Keshavan grew up in Manali which had no cricket or football grounds. Skiing was the sport. He took to it naturally and won a scholarship from the International Luge Federation (FIL). “Two years of training in Europe helped me a lot and I took it as a career because I wanted to win a medal for India in the Winter Olympics.”

The dream remains unfulfilled after four attempts but he is positive. “The next two Winter Olympics are very realistic platforms for me. I can improve. All I seek is financial and moral support from the sponsors, government and the people of India. I have faith in myself and God.”

Namita sounds very positive. “We know we have started well. We will reach somewhere,” she says. Keshavan smiles and nods; he knows it is quite possible!