On the serene slopes of Gulmarg, winter sports activities athletes get a uncommon alternative

Excess snowfall, and schedule delays and modifications, couldn’t dampen the spirits round Gulmarg’s ski slopes, the place plush inexperienced meadows have made means for serene white snow, because the third version of the Khelo India Winter Games kicked off on Friday.

“I’m excited to compete here,” Sheikh Mohsin Farooq, a national-level skier from Jammu and Kashmir, mentioned. “I’ve been skiing since 2013, in Gulmarg and other areas of Kashmir, but I have hardly seen this level of excitement for these (winter) games.”

The KIWG is likely one of the few, if not solely, national-level multi-sport winter video games, the place athletes from everywhere in the nation get an opportunity to showcase what winter sports activities – typically ignored within the Indian sports activities scene – are all about.

For many, simply the chance to expertise an organised winter sports activities competitors is huge. “I think it’s huge for us to be able to represent winter sports, since the Ladakh region, naturally, has a lot of athletes,” Sajjad Hussain mentioned.

Sajjad is a monitor and area athlete, frequently training marathons and sprints, however he’s in Gulmarg to participate within the snowshoe working occasion. He additionally spends time teaching up-and-coming athletes in his house state of Ladakh, the place he thinks the youth may be boosted by the chance to play in national-level occasions.

“Since we became a Union Territory, we get to send a team to these games,” he mentioned. “When young athletes get to take part in these events, and they see and meet some of India’s best, there is no better way to motivate them.”

While areas in components of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Kashmir, are properties to leisure snowboarding, winter sports activities occur to be a comparatively unknown avenue to aspirational sportspersons, with huge questions across the feasibility of internet hosting these occasions, and pursuing them professionally.

Shiva Keshavan, a six-time Winter Olympian for India, was current on the opening of the KIWG, and believes that a few of these questions have been answered by the turnout in Gulmarg.

“The interest in this event shows there is a solid following, and potential. And the sheer number of athletes – so many that it has been a logistical challenge to accommodate everyone – shows there is plenty of passion,” he instructed The Indian Express. Around 1500 athletes, in 29 completely different sports activities, are set to take part based on the occasion programme.

“Th is is a movement that needs to grow… Sports can be a vehicle of development, and this region can be the home of winter sports,” he added.

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Shiva added that winter sports activities are an effective way to work on health and bodily growth for these pursuing different sports activities as nicely. “So many athletes are here from states that do not have mountains or snow, they have been participating in these games as endurance training,” he mentioned.

Sajjad, who represented Ladakh in monitor and area on the 2022 National Games, agrees. “Due to the snow, it is hard for me to train in the winter months. But what two or two-and-a-half hours of running does for my training, I can do in one hour of snowshoe (walking over snow with snowshoes),” he mentioned.

Olympic dream

The Winter Olympics discovered a point out on a couple of event on the opening ceremony of the KIWG. While there could also be an extended technique to go for India to have a powerful presence at that stage, there are various who’re dreaming of following in Shiva’s footsteps, and going one additional by successful the nation medals.

14-year-old Jiah Aryan is a type of younger athletes, having represented India at varied worldwide age-group races, even successful gold on the Montenegro Skiing Competition in January. Jiah’s potential signifies loads of promise, however honing her expertise comes with challenges of its personal.

Hailing from Karnataka, she must journey for each little bit of her coaching, for which she typically involves Gulmarg, but in addition works with coaches and academies in Austria, Serbia, and Montenegro. At the second, she has been spending six months of the yr competing and coaching, and 6 months specializing in teachers and different actions. Her mother and father have been financially supporting her by all of it.

“Jiah has found this dream herself, and she has shown motivation and commitment to pursue this sport professionally. Our family has been committed to one thing ever since – getting that Olympic medal,” her father, Aryan IC, mentioned.

The large prices, visa points, and fixed acclimatisation to new climates and cultures have taken a toll on the household, who’re planning on sending Jiah overseas full-time quickly. “A race is a race, and getting the chance to compete in her own country definitely helps,” Aryan mentioned.

This author is in Gulmarg on the invitation of the Sports Authority of India (SAI).



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