Meet Arif Mohammad Khan, India's only athlete at Beijing Winter Olympics

The Khan family owns a tourism-cum-ski equipment shop in Gulmarg which contributes towards his skiing career.

Arif Mohammad Khan has just completed a training stint in Austria.   -  AFP

Barely two weeks remain for the Beijing Winter Olympics, and Arif Mohammad Khan, India’s only athlete to seal a berth at the Games in China and the first Indian to win direct quota spots for two Winter Games events, is visibly excited.

“To be the one athlete who makes it through from a country of over a billion is special. Professional athletes spend four to five years just training and perfecting their sport and nothing else. I’ve done that, and now I am just waiting for it to begin,” Khan tells Sportstar.

 

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The 31-year-old will compete in the Slalom and Giant Slalom events and has just completed a training stint in Austria. The alpine skier smiles as he explains his process and his journey. Besides sponsorship from JSW Sports, Khan has also been named in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) and has received a grant of Rs 17.46 lakh for his Olympic preparation in Europe.

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“Financially, everything is settled, everything is working smoothly because everyone has their time in life, and I feel like now is my time. This is not an easy sport to pursue, the costs go over Rs. 60 lakh a year,” Khan says.

The Khan family owns a tourism-cum-ski equipment shop in Gulmarg which contributes towards his career. “Some years we had good tourism and my father, Yaseen, could save some money. I would save some for my training and travel for competitions, but other years were rough.

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"With how things are in Kashmir, things got hard, and I had to resort to crowdfunding. That also did not work for me in 2018. I fell short and missed the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics,” Khan adds.

His days are easier now, and the sole priority is to do well in Beijing. “Training takes up close to eight to nine hours of the day, and it is tiring. I just wait for the time to sleep,” Khan says sheepishly.

The Games are drawing closer, but Khan is unfazed. Besides sharing skiing videos on his Facebook handle, he is largely off social media. “If you are doing something and want to do it well, you just have to stay away from everything else,” he says.

Even his wedding stands postponed, a personal detail that his father revealed to local media a few weeks ago. It is allowing him to focus on the Games. “Sabeena has now become more famous than me because of that one line my father said. I had to ask her and her family if we could postpone the wedding because getting to Beijing needed all my attention. I wanted to make everyone happy by creating history first. Later, we'll be able to enjoy everything else,” Khan adds. 

The Beijing Winter Olympic Games begin on February 4.

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