It is 16°C in Krasnaya Polyana, a venue for mountain cluster events in Sochi, Russia. Shiva Keshavan sits on the luge, and his calves tauten on the steel runners as he glides across the ice track with spiked gloves. He lowers his head to minimise air resistance and straightens his legs. The sled is now gliding on the 1.814 km-long artificially-iced track at the speed of 130 kmph.
In February 2014, Keshavan, a 32-year-old Manali resident, will represent India at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia in Luge — which will have four heats — the fastest of all sledging sports often compared with F1 cars and fighter jets. There are 17 luge tracks scattered across Europe, USA, Canada, Russia and Japan. One is underway in Korea where the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, will be held. India, predictably, does not have infrastructure for luge races yet.
That, however, does not mean Keshavan does not have support back home. In a first-of-its-kind initiative, Olympic Gold Quest, a non-profit organisation, which is committed to help the best athletes in India win Olympic Gold medals, along with Ketto, an online crowd funding platform for social causes, launched a campaign, Send Shiva to the Winter Olympic. It aims to raise R10 lakh to fund the luger’s quest for the gold medal on November 1.
According to Viren Rasquinha, CEO, Olympic Gold Quest, a sum of R five lakh will go towards procuring a state-of-the-art luge and the remaining R5 lakh will be dedicated to Keshavan’s training. “The power of social media is strong and the youth is keen to contribute for a social cause. Till now, our NGO was taking large amounts of money from fewer people. Now, we are taking smaller amounts from a larger group of people. The campaign will close on December 31, 2013.”
Keshavan’s first brush with the sled was rather modest. As a child growing up on the ice caps in Manali, he pursued a more rudimentary form of the sport, Reri, which is still pursued in the region. “I built my own sled with wood and wheels and drove it down empty roads back home,” remembers Keshavan.
In 1996, by the time the International Luge Federation organised a talent scout camp in Panchkula, Haryana, he was already a Junior National Skiing champion.
His school, The Lawrence School Sanawar, sent Keshavan and his brother to participate in the camp. “I made it to the top two and, since then, I have attended several international training camps, the first being in Austria. The turning point in my life came in 1998 when I became the youngest Olympian to qualify for luge at the age of 16, during the Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan,” he says.
As the World Cup season commences this week, Keshavan’s schedule is rigorous. Up at 5.30 am, he begins ice training at 6.30 am. “At 10.45 am, we play a few games of soccer or work out in the Olympics gym for physical training. After lunch, we participate in a video analysis of the runs we did earlier in the day. This helps us correct our driving lines for the next day.
After two hours of work on the sleds, we took part in a yoga session followed by sled routine. The schedule includes one more sled routine post dinner,” explains Keshavan, adding that they travel to a different country every week, so the body needs to adjust itself before it gets into a schedule like the one described above. “But after 17 years of racing, I have trained myself and I know how to get back on my feet in no time,” says Keshavan, who has been training all year for the Olympic Games.
Mind and body
Luge races are all about a balance between the mind and the body. “Going at a speed of 150 kmph on blades and maneuvering turns, one has to be very solid and stable in the mind before going down the track,” says Keshavan, who remembers the first time he qualified for a World Cup. “I had broken my leg in the pre-race training, but I kept quiet about it and participated in the race because it meant a lot to me. Had the authorities known, I would not have been allowed. I hope I never have to do that again,” says Keshavan, explaining that a luge pilot steers the sled mainly with their calves by applying pressure on the runners. It takes a precise mix of shifting body weight, applying pressure with calves and rolling the shoulders. There are also handles for minor adjustments.
“Most lugers visualise the course in their minds before sliding. Fastest times are achieved by following the perfect line down the track. Any slight error, such as a brush of the wall, costs time. On an average, lugers race at speeds of 120 to 145 km/h around high banked curves while experiencing a centrifugal pull of up to 5G to 11G,” says Keshavan whose training schedule has been designed by Swiss National Coach Marc Verchere.
So, while Keshavan is sweating it out for the gold in Norway, Varun Sheth, founder of Ketto, is garnering support from social media websites and individual contributors to donate for the cause. “We are giving away signed T-shirts, OGQ mugs, FB shoutouts and autograph pictures of Shiva at different donation ticket sizes. Shiva’s story is really touching and we are hoping to raise funds via Ketto to further India’s cause in sporting events.”
To contribute for Shiva Keshavan’s cause, log on to www.ketto.org
And this is how it’s done
> The highest speed achieved by a Luge pilot is 154 km per hour (at the Whistler Olympic Track in Canada). Lugers compete against a timer and are timed to a thousandth of a second, which makes luge one of the most precisely timed sports in
> Although the sport of luge is sometimes thought of as being relatively new, sled racing is actually one of the oldest of all the
winter sports. The Vikings used sleds with two runners as early as 800 BC.
> The first international luge race took place in February 1883 in Davos, Switzerland, with 21 competitors representing six nations, including the United States.
> Luge was inaugurated as an Olympic sport at the 1964 IX Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria.