Read about a luge athete who trained, and crashed, at Whistler's track in November 2009.
By Jennifer Leask, Producer, CBC Vancouver
November 17, 2009
We caught up with Shiva Keshavan, a 28-year old luger from India, in Whistler where he was training. He and the rest of the luge circuit competitors are trying to get a handle on the track for 2010 - it’s the fastest one in the world, where a luge can reach 160km/hour.
There’s no question that’s fast - but when you take into consideration Keshavan built his sled himself using mostly second-hand parts, and he’s been using it for nine years, the stress fractures along the sides and the duct tape covering them raise the stakes.
So when we got a call while we were waiting to interview him in Whistler, telling us Keshavan had crashed on a practice run, his sled was broken, and he was hurt, we rushed to his place to see him.
There he was, standing with a big smile on his face, assuring us that his friends just weren’t used to seeing him crash, but admitting that though his sled was broken, he wasn’t badly hurt. Later, a VANOC official told us it was a quite a bad crash, and though they tried to give him medical attention at the site, Keshavan was more worried about his sled than himself.
There are a limited number of days of open training for International lugers on the Whistler track, and because the fixes took longer than usual, Keshavan was forced to miss two of them.
Luckily for Keshavan, he doesn’t seem to mind when the odds are stacked against him. He comes from a country where there’s little money for winter sports, so he makes do. A friend from Italy serves as his cook and technician, and a friend from grade school in India has become a media relations manager of sorts while he’s in B.C.
When Austrian Olympic luger Günther Lemmerer showed up in Manali, Himachal Pradesh to recruit new lugers - he sent Keshavan down the steep Himalayan mountain roads on a luge on wheels. Keshavan was hooked, and he still trains there. It wasn’t long before he was at the 1998 Nagano Games as the only athlete on the Indian Winter Olympic Team, and the youngest Olympic luge competitor ever.
The more time we spent with him, the more it became clear he embodies what the Olympics are supposed to be about: the joy of sport, goodwill, and national pride.
There’s no question he is incredibly determined and loves the luge: until recently he hasn’t had any funding from the Indian government, but he’s has managed to compete at three Winter Games because his parents have gone without and he works as a mountain guide every summer.
He’s also made it this far because of the good will of others - when his sled broke on a training run, another team’s technician fixed it for him. His coach in Turin worked for him for free. The Italian team offered him a spot (Keshavan’s mother is Italian), but Keshavan chose to represent the country where he was born.
After 12 years on the circuit, he’s got a few sponsors now: the Limca Book of Records, which dubbed him "The Fastest Indian on Ice". Limca is paying for a new sled, which should be ready in time for the Games in Whistler, and Keshavan said that could shave up to a half-second off his time. Swiss International Air Lines sponsors him as well: they foot the bill for him to fly to international competitions so he can get used to the pressure, and the field.
Come Games time, for his fourth Olympics, Keshavan’s hoping all of the stars will align, and maybe he’ll have a leg up over many of the other competitors: between the German’s with their sleds made by Porsche, and the Canadians with their Own the Podium program, the 300,000 South Asians in B.C. (according to the 2006 census) might just turn up and cheer him on, and give him the edge he needs.
UPDATE: Shiva Keshavan is competing in luge at the Vancouver Olympics. You can find out more about him and the 2010 Games at CBC's Vancouver Now page.