An alpine skier from Kashmir, Arif Khan has become the first Indian to qualify for the Winter Olympic Games to be held in Beijing from 4th February 2022. For Indians it is a rare feat for any participant to qualify for the Winter Olympics. The Winter Olympics are usually dominated by participants from Europe, USA and Canada. But Arif Khan secured his place during the qualifying events in Dubai on Saturday.
Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, took to Twitter to congratulate Arif and express his delight. “Congratulations Arif, well done for qualifying for Beijing 2022. We will all be rooting for you,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Farooq Khan, advisor to the Lieutenant Governor of J&K, explained that the setting up of world class sports infrastructure with training and coaching facilities has begun to show its effect. It is hoped that Arif Khan will be the first of many who will follow in his footsteps.
Earlier it was Siva Keshavan who had surged into the limelight by representing India at the Winter Olympics in the Luge event. He had won a gold medal at the Asian Luge Cup in Japan and set a new Asian record in 2011. Although he did not do very well at the Winter Olympics, he succeeded in creating an awareness of winter sports in India. Following publicity given to his efforts, winter sports facilities were set up in Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir where there is plenty of winter tourism and skiing and snowboarding.
It is hoped that Arif Khan who has international experience under his belt will perform well and make India proud. He had earlier represented India in several international events including the World Championships. Although he did not bag any medals he gained valuable experience against top notch competitors from across the world. That experience will stand him in good stead as he heads to Beijing early next year.
The Winter Olympics are held once every four years just like the summer Olympics. This too is considered a major sports event and was first started in 1924 when it was held in France. The alpine skiing event was not originally in the Winter Olympics schedule but was later added to the programme. It is this event in which Arif Khan will participate.
Not surprisingly, traditionally it is the European countries which have done well in this event. Austria with a total of 121 medals including 37 golds leads the medal tally since its inception. Switzerland is in second place with 22 golds (total 66 medals) and USA with 17 golds (total 17 medals) is in third place so far.
Against such competitors who have excellent year round training facilities and coaching, an Indian participant may not end up with a medal. But for everything there has to be a beginning. Even if Arif Khan can finish in the top ten he will make headlines in India. He may inspire other youngsters to take to the sport and they will be able to improve the overall standard.
At the Tokyo Olympics a few months ago, India put up its best ever performance with seven medals including one gold. With hard work and training, in future Indian athletes will bag medals at the Winter Olympics too and make the Indian flag fly high at these venues also.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.