‘India’s Fastest Man on Ice’ Gears Up for Luge Racing in Winter Olympics 2018

Luger Shiva Keshavan will represent India at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, his sixth appearance at the quadrennial event.


From becoming the youngest person to qualify for the Olympics in the sport of luge at the age of 16 to being the only luger in India for over two decades, Shiva Keshavan wears many feathers in his cap. He will soon be competing in his last Olympic battle after representing India at the event five times.

The 36-year-old Olympian will represent India at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018 in South Korea for the sixth time.

Also known as “India’s fastest man on ice,” Keshavan became familiar with the sport in Himachal Pradesh. Born to a Malayali father and Italian mother, he grew up attending the Lawrence School at Sanawar. At the age of 14, he was chosen for training in the sport by Gunther Lemmerer, a former European champion who became a luge ambassador and was developing teams in India, Greece, Somalia and Bermuda in 1998.

Lemmerer was inspired to do so after the release of the Walt Disney movie Cool Runnings based on the true story of the Jamaica national bobsleigh team’s debut in competition during the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. It was unexpected of a Jamaican team to compete in a winter sport. The movie was shown to young Keshavan, and years later, during the Sochi Olympics he acknowledged that the movie had inspired him to try luge all those years ago.

While the bobsled can be a two-man or four-man event, luge is an individual sport, where the glory or defeat is also one’s own. It requires the participants to lie on their back, feet first, and pulls themselves to begin the race. It is known as the fastest sport on ice. The sled can reach speeds of up to 90 miles per hour and the individual uses only their body to steer on the ice course.

Keshavan garnered media attention right from the beginning when he qualified as the youngest person to compete for luge in Olympics, and also because it was unheard of for an Indian to be playing the sport at all.

“Nobody expected to see somebody from India,” Keshavan said in an interview for a RedBull video in November this year. “Everybody thinks India is a tropical country until you tell them of the Himalayas.”

When he began at the age of 14, he was given only a week’s worth of training before he was selected to go to Innsbruck, Austria. Once there, he saw professionals in action and called his parents, telling them that he was going to be a luger. His passion has been unwavering ever since.

Keshavan will be representing India for the sixth time at the Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018. He has teamed up with Duncan Kennedy, an American luger who competed from 1979 to 1997, to train for the event.

What gave the athlete instant viral fame was a crash and save at the Sochi Olympics. During a practice session, he fell off the sled at 57 mph but maneuvered himself to get back on to it and completed the race.

Keshavan, with his homemade sleds, has won two gold, four silver and three bronze medals the Asian Luge Cup. While he has never been placed higher than 25 in world rankings, he does not regret coming back every winter Olympics since he began competing in 1998.

He scored the necessary five points at the Viessmann Luge World Cup 2017-18 in Innsbruck, Austria, to qualify for the Winter Olympics in 2018. It may be his last year but he still wants to keep giving his best.

“I didn’t do this for other people to look at my story,” Keshavan told the Associated Press. “I did it for myself. I did it to improve myself and I feel that I’ve come a long way. Until now I’ve learned a lot, traveled the world, met people all over the world and I’ve been privileged to do that. And, well, if other people look at me, I know they’ll respect me for what I did.”

In the RedBull video, Keshavan laments that there is no support from his home country for the sport. His wife, Namita Agarwal, and he spend the time when he’s not training to seek sponsorship for Keshavan. He has been trying to promote winter sports in India and tried to engage the youth for the sport he is passionate about by organizing a camp in 2009 for 50 young athletes.

His fellow competitors have also been supportive towards Keshavan and acknowledge his passion for the sport.

Keshavan’s sled broke during the competition in early December but Croatian Daria Obratov gave him hers. While it was too small for him, he used it to finish the Nations Cup race in Calgary, Alberta, which gave him the Pyeongchang spot.

“Although we represent different countries, the Olympic spirit knows no boundaries,” Obratov had told AP.

Before facing the difficulties at the Alberta races, he won his second consecutive Gold medal at the Asian Championship on Dec. 1 in Altenberg, Germany.

“I gave my best,” Keshavan, whose story began in small town Vashisht, Himachal Pradesh, and has spanned across countries and international competitions, told AP in his characteristic indomitable spirit. “Maybe that’s the thing I want to be remembered for: He gave his best and he never gave up.”

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