A Thousandth of the Second: The Story of India’s Only Winter Olympian

The 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, held in Japan, witnessed a singular tricoloured winter sports suit, donned by the only Indian to ever take to the insanely quick speeds of the sport of Luge at the highest level. Shiva Keshavan, at the tender age of sixteen, was the youngest athlete to ever qualify in Luge for the 1998 Winter Olympics. Little did anyone know that this awe-inspiring talent would go on to be a part of six consecutive Winter Olympics. Shiva’s story of perseverance, dedication, and utmost love for what he does, is one that every youth should learn from and emulate. 

Luge, a Winter Olympic sport, is an extreme form of sledding on hard ice. It is regarded as the fastest sport on ice which consists of the athlete aerodynamically steering the luge pod to minimise all the forces acting on the sled and optimise their performance. Since all the sleds travel with approximately the same speed on the ice, success in this sport differs by a margin of the thousandth of a second.

Born in the lap of the alluring Himalayas, Shiv’s introduction to ‘ice’ began well before he could say the word. Being a mountain child, he and his peers would fit wheels to wooden boards and slide down snowy slopes, self-curated by them. As he grew older, he naturally took up skiing in his boarding school, which was known for promptly promoting athletes. 

Brimming with talent from the very beginning, he settled for no less than a gold medal in the national junior championship. During one of his qualifying rounds, a talent scout from the International Luge Federation asked him to try out the sport. At the age of 15, he attended a luge camp at his school, conducted by World Luge champion, Günther Lemmerer. One thing fluidically led to the other, and Shiva was the first-ever Indian to represent his country at the Winter Olympics.

“There is no perfect life, but you still put up with it, because you are doing it for something you love,” says Shiva Keshavan.

Luge, for Shiva Keshavan, is the most romantic thing that happened to him, and any sacrifice that he has to make for it only widens his captivating grin. Having said this, the benevolent Olympian, cannot do away with the daily struggles of supporting himself to compete internationally. The Italian and American luge teams have been kind enough to partner with Shiv and allow him to travel with them during competitions and also access their training facilities. However, these are short-lived solutions. Shiv has no other option, but to crowdfund his training. 

Despite repeatedly attempting to explain the importance of winter sports, the Sports Authority of India has always turned its back to its constant requests for support. This, however, does not lower his spirits. He finally took to crowdfunding his expenses. In fact, for the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014, he had gotten 50000 names of those people who funded his training expenses, embossed on his race suit. 

“India has gotten medals in winter sports, and all the ten belong to Shiva.”  The Arjuna awardee has reigned the champion in the Asia Luge Cup by bagging the gold medal in 2011 and 2012. He has also secured 2 bronze and a silver medal in the same competition. Shiva also set a new Asian speed record in 2011 of 134kmph!

Born to an Italian mother, he could have easily chosen to be a part of the Italian luge team, but he chose to compete under the Indian flag, despite knowing the problems that he was going to have to deal with. Unfortunately, in our country, the viewership associated with a sport solely decides the importance our government gives to it. Sponsors support the more celebrated sport and the less popular sports suffer. Often this leads to young children choosing a different career path than pursuing one in the field of such sports, due to lack of resources and support.

Progressive steps need to be taken to make sure that these sports get the due that they deserve. Children should be introduced to the history and current affairs of non-mainstream sports in their school curriculum. Such an effort would quench the parched thirst due to the unawareness amongst future citizens. Also, appointing ex-sportsmen to administrative roles in sports authorities would enable these establishments to flourish and thrive.

“The journey and the battle are always against ourselves, not against anyone less,” says Shiva Keshavan. 

The Pyeoung-Chang Olympics was Shiv’s last. The final run down the ice-heaven brought back all the sacrifice, patience, and hard work that had gone into coursing this novel path. As emotional as he is about hanging his boots, he is equally excited that he would now get to play mentor to the numerous youth, who now look at winter sports as a mainstream career option. The quadragenarian is now instrumental in working with the central and state authorities in setting up a state-of-the-art winter sports facility in Manali. With expert technical inputs from the International Luge Federation, Shiv is the reason that this much-needed confluence of means and knowledge has come into being.

As much as he would have appreciated the Indian sports authorities to have accelerated the growth of winter sports infrastructure during his hay-days, he is equally proud and obliged to be the agent of sustainable change. He is truly the silver lining to the dark cloud, that he is now working actively to decimate. 

With Shiva Keshavan around, the Indian winter sports scene is not only in safe hands but is also looking to revolutionize. 


Written by Tejas Kulkarni  for MTTN

Edited by Anushka Das for MTTN

Featured Image by Subrata Dhar

Image Credits by Julian Finney


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