Winter Olympics 2018: Cross country skier Jagdish Singh's journey from penury to Pyeongchang limelight

Shiva Keshavan, India's most celebrated Winter Olympian, recently retired from the sport after participating in his sixth consecutive Olympics at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

Among the various sports to be featured in the Winter Games, India's participation started with a solitary representation in Alpine skiing in 1964. In the following years, alpine skiing was the only sport that Indians indulged in till Keshavan represented the country in luge in 1998.

However, there has been one other sport that has seen Indian athletes in three out of the four Olympics since 2006 — cross-country skiing

India's Jagdish Singh competes on February 20, 2013 during the Men's Cross Country 10 km qualification race of the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships at Val Di Fiemme Cross Country stadium in Cavalese, northern Italy. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE TEYSSOT / AFP PHOTO / Pierre Teyssot

File photo of Jagdish Singh. AFP

On 16 February, 26-year-old Jagdish Singh will represent India in cross-country skiing, becoming just the fourth-ever Indian in history to do so.

Jagdish, who has been training at the High Altitude Warfare School(HAWS) in Gulmarg since 2011, experienced skiing for the first time following his association with the Army.

According to a Hindustan Times report, he spoke about how joining the Army changed his life, "It was only after joining Army that I got a chance to experience skiing and at that time, I never imagined that these blades would give me an opportunity to represent the country at the world’s highest sporting arena.”

Born in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, Jagdish made his international skiing debut at the 2013 World Championship in Italy and also made his presence felt at the 2017 Winter Asian Games.

However, the journey from Chamoli to Pyeongchang wasn't easy for Jagdish, who was briefly embroiled in a controversy that almost jeopardised his debut at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

There was ambiguity over who would accompany Jagdish as his coach to South Korea after both the Indian Army and the Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI) nominated different coaches for the athlete.

While the WGFI names were rejected by the Indian Olympic Association owing to the fact that IOA doesn't recognise WGFI as a legitimate body, the Army's recommendation wasn't cleared by the IOA due to delay in mail correspondence.

Jagdish was burdened by this indecisiveness that wasn't of his own making and his participation at the Pyeongchang Games was in doubt even as five-time Olympian Keshavan left for South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

However, the burden was soon lifted as IOA accepted the HAWS' recommendation of 2014 Winter Olympian and cross-country skier Nadeem Iqbal as Jagdish's coach.

Jagdish, who will participate in the 15km Nordic skiing freestyle event, made it just in time for the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Games alongside his newly-appointed coach Iqbal.

From joining the Army as a 17-year-old in 2009 to representing India at the Winter Olympics, Jagdish, the son of an ex-serviceman and the eldest of four siblings, has come a long way.

He credits the Army for the opportunity to represent the country at the grandest stage of all. “Had it not been for the Army, I would not have even imagined participating in such an expensive sport. An international standard skiing kit costs Rs 4-5 lakh. I still recall a time when we didn’t have even Rs 10 to spend and the best way we used to enjoy fairs was watching kids having rides.”

No Indian Winter Olympian except Keshavan and Jeremy Bujakowski (1964, 1968) have featured in more than one edition of the Games.

On Friday, Jagdish will gear up to take the field for the first time and will look to break the jinx on Indian cross country skiers at the Winter Olympics.

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Updated Date: Feb 12, 2018 18:19:20 IST

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