New Delhi- Kashmiri skier Arif Khan, who will create history on Sunday when he takes part in the men's giant slalom event of the Beijing Winter Olympics, says he knew 10 years ago that he would one day represent the country in the global showpiece.
Hailing from a village in Kashmir's Baramulla district, one of the most-frequented tourist spots of the valley, Khan will become the first Indian to compete in two events in a Winter Olympics -- in men's slalom and giant slalom. His slalom event will be held on February 16.
Taking to skiing seemed natural to Khan as his father Yasin owns a ski equipment shop at Gulmarg which is near his village. He was introduced to skiing at the age of four by his father who had made a small ski slope just outside the shop.
Khan began competitive skiing when he was 10 years old and at 12, he won a gold medal in the slalom at the national championship.
In 2011, Khan won two gold medals -- in the slalom and giant slalom -- at the South Asian Winter Games in Dehradun and Auli.
"So, I was the fastest skier in India by then. After the gold medals, I knew that I will one day represent the country in Winter Olympics, it was going to be only a matter of time," Khan told PTI from the Games Village in Beijing.
"I should have qualified (for Winter Olympics) earlier but it did not happen due to certain reasons. So, it will be a dream come true moment (on Sunday). I am proud to represent 1.4 billion Indians and to put my region in Olympics map," said the 31-year-old.
India had declared a diplomatic boycott of the Games after China fielded the regimental commander of the People's Liberation Army, who was injured during the 2020 military face-off with Indian soldiers in the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh, as a torchbearer for the event's Torch Relay.
"It was the country's decision and the call from the government and I have no issues with that. You cannot go against the decision of the government of your country. I was happy with whatever I was doing," Khan said.
"I was feeling great for my people back home. A lot of people sent me messages for this great moment. I knew that entire India would see me holding the (national) flag during the opening ceremony (on February 4) and they must be proud of me."
Khan has taken part in four FIS World Ski Championships so far, starting from 2013. His best result has been 45th in the giant slalom at the 2021 edition in Italy.
Just before leaving for Beijing, Khan had said that he would be happy if he can make it to the top-30 in his events.
"It's a difficult and complicated event, you never know what will happen on a day. You have to be conscious about your movement, balance of your body, of your skiis, the speed till the last gate.
"I am hoping for a good performance but under such conditions it is difficult to predict anything. I am trying to keep my balance on the ice. I need to carry with my balance till the last gate if I want to finish in top numbers. I am doing fine in that regard.
"I am not feeling any pressure. The conditions are superb here -- food, training, accommodation etc. We are allowed to go only within the close loop, so there is no COVID fears also. We are being tested everyday and it's not a hassle."
He said the skii course in Beijing -- or for that matter in other top class events -- is much different from the ones he had trained and so adjustment is not easy.
"The ice is different here, it is injected ice. These are used in this kind of top global events. These are costly to maintain and you don't get it during training. I have done training for the past few days after arriving here and getting used to it. But you never know, you can't predict how you will fare."
Before the Beijing Games, Khan had trained at Innsbruck in Austria.
Slalom and giant slalom are two of the five events in Alpine skiing. The athletes are required to ski down a vertical slope through 'gates', which consist of of two plastic poles.
A skier will run two races and the competitor with the lowest combined time across the two courses is deemed the winner.
Slalom is more difficult technically than giant slalom as the former has the shortest course and fastest turns with the least spacing between the 'gates'.
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