Indian luger vies for a sixth Olympic trip
LAKE PLACID — Shiva Keshavan is probably not going to medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
That doesn’t make him irrelevant.
His name gets heard once every four years, because of his story: A guy from India, where there is no great winter sports legacy to speak of, goes to the Olympics — in luge of all things. When he competes in Pyeongchang, it’ll be his sixth and almost certainly final time as an Olympian. He’s never finished better than 25th, and that’s not likely to change this February.
Ask him if it was worth it, and he doesn’t hesitate before saying yes.
“I didn’t do this for other people to look at my story,” Keshavan said. “I did it for myself. I did it to improve myself and I feel that I’ve come a long way. Until now I’ve learned a lot, traveled the world, met people all over the world and I’ve been privileged to do that. And, well, if other people look at me, I know they’ll respect me for what I did.”
Keshavan was 31st in a 35-slider Nations Cup event on Thursday night at Mount Van Hoevenberg, meaning he won’t be competing in today’s World Cup event. Only the top 15 from the Nations Cup advanced, and Keshavan wasn’t close.
But that doesn’t deter him, and never has. Keshavan’s attitude has been infectious among other sliders for years, and it’s clear he’ll be missed if this — as he expects — is the end of his Olympic journey.
“It really is kind of like a community that you’re a part of, and it’s something that’s really hard to let go,” said longtime USA Luge slider Chris Mazdzer, one of the many on the luge circuit who considers Keshavan a good friend. “It is a lot of fun traveling, competing all around the world with a great group of people.”
Keshavan is sort of an unofficial member of many national teams.
Keshavan calls Lake Placid his home track, even though it’s 7,000 miles from the Himalayan region that is his actual home. When he finished his race Thursday night, Australians and Ukrainians were among the first to offer him words of congratulations. And last week Keshavan got help from a Croatian just so he could compete.
Keshavan’s sled broke, so Daria Obratov offered hers. It was way too small for Keshavan, and not exactly contoured for him, but he used it anyway and was able to finish the Nations Cup race in Calgary, Alberta — which helped his quest for Pyeongchang.
“Although we represent different countries, the Olympic spirit knows no boundaries,” Obratov said.
Keshavan made his Olympic debut as a 16-year-old at Nagano in 1998, when he placed 28th. He’s been an Olympic regular ever since, never finishing anywhere near the medal stand — 33rd in Salt Lake City in 2002, 25th at Turin in 2006, 29th at Vancouver in 2010 and 37th at Sochi four winters ago.
He’s always been somewhere around five or 10 seconds behind the gold medalists in the final standings. That doesn’t sound like much, but in a sport like luge where wins and losses often come down to a few thousandths of a second, that’s roughly the equivalent of finishing about an hour behind the winner of the Boston Marathon.
Still, he’s out there. He’ll be a six-time Olympian. That’s more of a legacy than he ever envisioned.
“I gave my best,” Keshavan said. “Maybe that’s the thing I want to be remembered for: He gave his best and he never gave up.”