Luger Shiva Keshavan has attracted a fair bit of media attention in Vancouver, primarily because of his compelling story and the novelty of being one of only three Winter Olympian from India. He finished 29th overall tonight, a respectable showing. Below, ten fun facts about Keshavan.
1) Due to a lack of funding, he pieced together most of his equipment by himself. In a November interview with the Vancouver Sun, Keshavan told the paper that the soft drink company Limca felt compelled to help him:
“When they saw my equipment — which is made by myself, compared to the Germans whose equipment is made by Porsche — they helped me to get a few new steels. I still have not got a complete sled. But we are in the process of improving my equipment,” Keshavan said.
(His other sponsor is Swiss Air, which sponsors his airfare.)
2) Despite the help from his sponsors, he almost didn’t make it to Vancouver because his sled broke just weeks ago during pre-Olympic training. Fortunately for him, five Indian lawyers donated 250,000 rupees towards getting new equipment.
3) The Sun and other media outlets have also noted the similarities between his story and the excellent 1993 Disney movie Cool Runnings, which is loosely based on the first Jamaican bobsled team to participate in the Olympics. (You can see my favorite scene in the movie here.) Keshavan’s NBC Olympics bio notes that he “first was introduced to the luge when Austrian slider and 1982 world champion Gunther Lemmerer paid a visit to his hometown to offer lessons on wheeled sleds.”
4) He trains on a “natural track” in India and incorporates yoga into his training routine. In an interview with NBC Sports Keshavan said:
Since we do not yet have an international standard luge track in India, I train on a wheeled sled on asphalt roads during summer, and on the natural mountain slopes during winter. I also do my physical preparation in India, but when it comes to the competitive season I have to travel to the various tracks on the world cup circuit and train there. This is because each track has to be memorized and mastered before being able to perform well. I also do yoga and I train in kalaripayat, a traditional Indian martial art.
5) As a 16-year-old at the Nagano games, Keshavan “competed with a borrowed sled, an oversized jacket and ill-fitting shoes,” according to the AFP.
6) His mother Rosalba is Italian and she and his father Sudhakaran used to manage an Italian inn and restaurant in Himachal Pradesh. His brother plays soccer for an Italian club. Despite his strong ties to Italy, he stressed his connection to India in an interview:
“I was offered Italian citizenship, but I refused because I am an Indian and want to spend my life here,” he said. “So what if they don’t know what a luge is.”
7) Keshavan received both a BA in political science and MA in international relations from the University of Florence. He runs a business consulting firm, LINK, when he is not training.
8.) He considers himself an ambassador for the sport:
In July 2009, Keshavan joined the National Luge Federation of India to put on a sports camp in the Himalayas for 54 Indian boys and girls. “The enthusiasm with which the youngsters responded was fantastic,” Keshavan remarked. “Plus the level of talent shown was far above my expectations. This was just the first step for my development plan, and if it is followed through, we will have a strong young team in four years.”
9) He’s no stranger to controversy: During the 2006 games, “[r]ather than spend his hard-earned money on a high-tech, precision-engineered sled, Shiva blew more than $300 on a fancy, saffron-colored luge suit.” Update: Keshavan responds in the comments that $300 is the standard price for a luge suit. He writes, “My 300$ suit is not to look good but is the standard price for a suit they are special aerodynamic suits for luge to maximise speed. glad it looks good but more importantly it is fast!” See his comment below for more.
“Shiva thinks he is greater than India and is maligning the image of the country by claiming that the team don’t have coordinated uniform. He didn’t speak to us regarding it. We didn’t have a clue.
“We had proper attires worth Rs 29,000 each provided by the IOA and the ministry and there is no confusion in that. We have even spoken to Shiva but he wants to go the other way,” Gupta said.
Update #2: Keshavan also addresses this controversy in his comment below (judging from the e-mail address, I believe it’s actually him). Here is an excerpt, scroll down for the full comment:
…those who follow my sports career know my determination and respect for the country and social work despite not recieving any salary or livelyhood for my sport! India is only just beginning to understand the real importance of sport and the government has begun to do its bit through teh Sports ministry.
-The fact that we did not all have the same uniform was evident in the opening ceremony march past and that is not due to lack of funds but the inability or apathy of the officials to procure them! Remember that all countries wear sponsored gear at no cost to them but still sport the best clothes not only for the performance of athletes but also out of national pride to show ourselves to the world.
You can see a photo of the Indian Olympic delegation here. The uniforms clearly don’t match.