Indian luger Keshavan on training with the U.S. and luging down highways
Without a coach and with his home country’s federation banned from the Olympics, Indian luger Shiva Keshavan sought help from his competitors last year. Invited to train and travel with the U.S. luge team starting last September, Keshavan is now set to compete in his fifth Olympics. Shortly before the Games started, he talked about his new American friends, his hope for the future of luge in India and why he races down a traffic-congested Himalayan highway.
NBC: How did your partnership with the U.S. luge team come about?
Keshavan: I didn’t have any resources – I didn’t have a coach – and it’s very difficult to train that way. I was looking for a team to partner with, so with the help of the International Luge Federation I approached a number of countries. The Americans were kind enough to respond to that.
NBC: Is the partnership over once the Olympics are done?
Keshavan: No. Next summer I’m looking forward to coming to Lake Placid and staying at the Olympic Training Center with them, probably in July. I’ve trained with other teams before, but this is the first time we’ve shared so much information and help. For me it’s very good because I’m able to train with high-level athletes and I can learn something every day and their very helpful giving me tips. I can also help them in some way: We’ve been having some yoga lessons. Erin Hamlin is always there, but everybody has been coming, on and off.
Embedded video_content_type: Keshavan risks life to train for Sochi
NBC: How have they helped you improve as a luger?
Keshavan: Having coaching, as opposed to no coaching was a big difference for me. It’s really nice to have that advice of [how to approach] the lines and the curves. They have so much experience with equipment and they can tell me what is wrong with my sled. To get the right equipment is going to take a long time – I hope we can make something new for next year and they said they’ll help me out with that. I don’t want to get too greedy. They’ve invested a lot of money into creating the best equipment and it would be unreasonable for me to expect the same thing, but it’s already very reassuring to me that the coaches are already helping me improve my equipment. [U.S. coach Mark Grimmette] has already told me that they would like to make a board for me, which is basically a shell that fits my measurements. That’s something I’ve never had before.
NBC: There’s a crazy video of you racing down a highway in India and dodging traffic. How did that come about?
Keshavan: We taped that in the summer of 2013. When I was recruited for luge [in 1996] they actually made a luge track on the road and modified luge sleds with rollerblade wheels. That’s an idea that has kind of stuck with me. Every year, just before the season starts [in the fall] I do runs on the road just to get a feel for the speed. My wife and I also go to various villages and try to train kids this way too. Obviously when we do that we block the roads so that there is no traffic. That particular video is part of a campaign with one of my sponsors where whoever would share the video their names would be printed on my Olympic suit. For the Olympic Games I’ll be wearing a race suits with tens of thousands of names.
NBC: In the video you race past a flock of sheep on the road. Did you know they were up ahead?
Keshavan: There was a bike travelling in front of me, relaying what was going on in front of me on the road. I had kind of an idea, but one of those sheep kind of jumped at me while I was going down, so I had to avoid it at the last minute. With Indian roads, there’s always something interesting going on.
Embedded video_content_type: Indian luger Shiva Keshavan crashes, then makes amazing save
NBC: How often do you go down one of those roads?
Keshavan: After the winter, when we don’t have snow anymore, the roads are pretty clear and there isn’t so much traffic. I do it quite often over there. There’s a huge community of roller luge athletes across the world and I hope to reach out to them to popularize that form of the sport also in India.
NBC: When you made your Olympic debut in 1998 did you have any idea that you would still be competing 16 years later?
Keshavan: It’s been an amazing journey. When I started the sport I had no idea I would make it to Nagano. That itself was a huge achievement for me and a realization of a dream. From there, as a competitive athlete, when you put yourself against other Olympic athletes and you see yourself improving, then you start to feel that you can do better and that you can win medals. I’ve been slowly, slowly getting better. Four years back I won my first medal at the Asian level, and that was a huge satisfaction for me. Right now my dream is to do the same at the Olympics. I know what it takes to get there, and I’m training really hard for that. I still have quite a gap in the equipment, but I’m trying to work with that. With Sochi and then Pyeoungchang [in 2018], I know I have some time to realize that.
NBC: I’m sure the corruption among the Indian federation hasn’t helped matters, but have you noticed Indians exhibiting a growing interest in luge since you first started?
Keshavan: Corruption is a huge problem in India. It’s caused us to be suspended from the International Olympic Committee and it’ll be the reason why the Indian flag is not flying at the Olympic Games. That’s a huge disappointment for me as an athlete and it’s a huge embarrassment for India as a country. This is just a reflection of a lot of the problems we are having in India. Corruption is quite a big social issue right now at all levels. There’s a huge anti-corruption wave in Indian politics right now and I hope the same thing happens in sports as well. We have such a huge talent pool, whether it’s for summer or winter sports and we really shouldn’t be performing so badly as we have. The interest in luge is not what is lacking – what is lacking is the means for young athletes, for aspiring kids to really take their aspirations forward. The lack of facilities, the lack of funding, the lack of any kind of activity from the national sports federations. I’ve been pretty much alone in this battle and this year for the first time the Sports Ministry actually stepped in in the absence of the Olympic Association and started funding us. I think this can pave the way for future athletes.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Athletes from non-traditional winter Olympic countries headed to the Sochi Games
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