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EXCLUSIVE | My Aim at Beijing Olympics Would Be to Do My Best to Put India on the Skiing Map: Arif Khan

Alpine skier Arif Mohammed Khan qualified for Winter Olympics (Twitter)

Alpine skier Arif Mohammed Khan qualified for Winter Olympics (Twitter)

Alpine skier Arif Khan qualified for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Imagine the irony. An athlete creates history by qualifying for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing through an event held in the middle of a desert.

Last month, 31-year-old Arif Khan finished overall 10th at the Entry League FIS event in Ski Dubai to book a spot for the country in Beijing. He became the first Indian to do so. At the Entry League FIS event last week, he finished ninth in the first race, 11th in the second and third, and 10th in the fourth race to win a spot for India at the Winter Olympics. Braving the lack of infrastructure and facilities in India, Arif plans to give his best shot in Beijing in the 2022 Winter Olympics, scheduled to begin in February. “My aim at the Olympics would be to do my best to put India on the skiing map. If I deliver the goods, the international skiing community will take note. Success at the Winter Games may make India a top skiing destination, from India,” he told News18.com.

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Hailing from Jammu & Kashmir’s Gulmarg area, Arif, a national and South Asian slalom champion in alpine skiing, had all the reasons to take up skiing as a sport. His father Yaseen Khan, himself a skier and guide since ages, also ran a ski equipment shop for tourists in Gulmarg. As a 12-year-old, Arif made his intentions clear after doing well at the junior national level competitions. The 32-year-old, however, says it was in 2005 when he started winning at national events. “By 2008 I was skiing faster than other Indians and it was then he ever dreamt of the Olympics,” he said.

Arif believes Gulmarg’s hilly terrain which is covered in snow for almost six months has the potential to become the hub of Asia in the sport. However, there are some conditions that need to be fulfilled. “India is required to develop some advanced type of infrastructure like ski slopes recognized by the International Ski Federation like ski lifts besides these slopes. The government needs to provide professional equipment and training to Indian athletes with proper financial support, then we will have the top quality sports men and women in the country,” he opined.

He feels there are millions of Indians who are aware of the sport, but the media has to play some role that will help in terms of caring and providing financial support to Indian athletes. Financially, skiing is an expensive sport. “It’s always difficult to raise funds for them in a country where it’s not a priority among people. Skiing is famous across the world, especially in Europe, where you find a long range of mountains covered fully in snow. Even in India it can be one of the top sports categories because we have mountains and snow in various parts of the country. I hope within the next 4 or 5 years there will be tens of thousands who will be attracted to skiing,” he said.

But obviously it is very expensive. “When you compete at international level the costs go up to around Rs 60 lakh annually. When you compare that to other international skiers they earn millions a year. They have big sponsors to look after their needs. A personal coach to guide them. And, of course, the support staff. All this doesn’t come free. For me, all I seek is money to participate in tournaments,” he added. Now, Arif tries to reduce his costs when training or competing abroad. “I have to share coaches. Seek low-cost accommodation and while other athletes take a flight for intra-Europe travel, I take buses and trains.” He is managing with Rs 60 lakh from his father.

Tourism business has not been good in Kashmir since the pandemic and that has only added to his problems. To keep the money flowing in, he has friends and well-wishers who help with donations to realise his dream of Olympics. At times, Arif also acts up as a ski instructor to earn a few extra bucks. With just over two months left in the Winter Games to begin, Arif has planned what he needs to do. “I am aiming for the World Cup races in January that will help me to know and understand other athletes better who too will be competing in the Olympic Games. The snow conditions will be the same in the Olympics as in World Cup races,” said Arif, who loves Italian ice cream – vanilla flavour.

But he has also decided Beijing won’t be his last shot at the Olympics, “I am physically very strong and I think it wouldn’t be hard to go for winter Olympics 2026. The only concern would be financial support to continue with training and traveling for international events,” he signed off.

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first published:December 06, 2021, 09:55 IST