Promise in winter sport, plans need to be in place

Jiah Aryan is a big fan of Lindsey Vonn – the legendary US skier and multiple Olympic and world medalist. Kiwi Alice Robinson, who made her Olympic debut as a 16-year-old at the 2018 Winter Olympics, is another favorite.

Judging by the idols she hopes to follow, it’s not hard to guess what the 14-year-old Bengaluru skier’s ambitions are. Jiah unabashedly declares her Olympic dream – not just to compete, but to break the huge barrier of winning an Olympic medal for India. “My goal is to qualify for the 2026 Winter Olympics and win a medal. I want to specialize in SuperG downhill,” she says.

She showed courage at the Khelo India Winter Games in Gulmarg. Despite the bad weather – a snowstorm – she finished the race with bronze in the giant slalom. She is widely recognized among India’s skiing community as a talent who can also thrive in the international arena.

She has won a number of age group level medals at the Nationals Championships and recently won India’s first international gold medal in the U16 class of alpine skiing at a competition in Montenegro. Her parents introduced her to the sport on the slopes of Gulmarg and it wasn’t long before she fell in love with the sport. She has trained in countries such as Austria and Montenegro and competed in age group races at international events.

“It was a very good experience to participate internationally and to learn so much,” she says.

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Choosing Jiah’s sport may be costly for her parents, but they are very supportive. In preparation for Olympic qualification, her father Aryan Indira Chandrashekar plans to send her abroad to Italy full-time.

“In India there is still a lack of professional expertise and infrastructure at the highest level, even though we have the best slopes,” says Chandrashekar.

“You have to spend 10 months in the snow every year and every month you have to do training abroad alone 4 lakhs. We finance everything ourselves now. For top-notch training and travel, look anywhere nearby 80 lakh a year,” he says.

Keshavan proposes IOA Winter Sports Committee

Jiah is one of a talented group of skiers who would need support to achieve their Olympic dreams. For a long time, the country’s winter sports associations have paid the price for mismanagement, power struggles and irregularities. A fresh start was made with the new constitution of the Indian Olympic Association, which gives equal importance to winter Olympic sports.

Keshavan is now part of the IOA Athletes Commission while Amitabh Sharma, President of the Ice Skating Association of India, has been drafted into the IOA Executive Council. Keshavan and Sharma were present at the KIWG. Keshavan will take feedback from athletes and coaches and submit a report. He has also proposed the formation of a coordinating committee within the IOA for winter sports.

“We need a body that can take all aspects of winter sports into account. We still haven’t had National Games for winter sports because there is no coordination between stakeholders. I have proposed this to IOA President PT Usha,” says Keshavan.

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Only four winter federations are currently recognized by the IOA – skiing and snowboarding, ice hockey, luge and ice skating.

“Funds are needed for the development of winter sports and for this the winter sports associations must be recognized by the government. The government has been very helpful in promoting winter sports. Khelo India has reignited interest. The government can issue specific rules for recognizing national winter sports federations,” says Keshavan.

There was only one Indian representative at the 2022 Winter Olympics – Arif Khan. Keshavan says the numbers could be bigger at the 2026 Olympics.

“I have no doubt that at the 2026 Winter Olympics we will probably have 10 athletes from ice skating, skiing, etc. I know the young people who do really well. We need athletes like that in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme. We also need training camps and different plans.”

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