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2022 Beijing Olympics | Meet Skier Arif Khan, only Indian athlete at winter games

The Kashmiri skier is realistic about his chances of winning a medal but hopes that his appearance will make a difference. “…I'm introducing skiing, winter sports to the people. It's their choice if they like it or not."

February 03, 2022 / 02:53 PM IST
At the age of four, Arif Mohammad Khan put on skis for the first time, in a tiny hilly village in Jammu and Kashmir. It was to be the start of a difficult journey that will culminate in him being the only athlete from India, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, when the Beijing Winter Olympics begin on February 4. (Image: AFP)
At the age of four, Arif Mohammad Khan put on skis for the first time, in a tiny hilly village in Jammu and Kashmir. It was to be the start of a difficult journey that will culminate in him being the only athlete from India, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, when the Beijing Winter Olympics begin on February 4. (AFP)
Skiing is in the family. Arif's father runs a ski shop and tour company in Gulmarg in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the world’s highest ski resorts that offers the chance to ski deep, fresh powder. It is reachable only by helicopter and the Himalayan views are breathtaking. (Image: AFP)
Skiing is in the family. Khan's father runs a ski shop and tour company in Gulmarg, one of the world’s highest ski resorts that offers the chance to ski deep, fresh powder. It is reachable only by helicopter and the Himalayan views are breathtaking. (AFP)
Arif showed early promise on the slopes, winning gold in his first appearance at the national junior championship at 12. Despite being home to part of the world's highest mountain range, winter sports barely figure in cricket-obsessed India's sporting interests. The country has previously sent only 15 athletes to the Winter Games. (Image: AFP)
Khan showed early promise on the slopes, winning gold in his first appearance at the national junior championship at 12. Despite being home to part of the world's highest mountain range, winter sports barely figure in cricket-obsessed India's sporting interests. The country has previously sent only 15 athletes to the Winter Games. (AFP)
Usually short of the money needed for travel, Arif's training and competitive activities in Europe have been largely funded by friends and family. (Image: AFP)
Usually short of the money needed for travel, Khan's training and competitive activities in Europe have been largely funded by friends and family. (AFP)
Gulmarg itself is heavily militarised, with several Indian military and border guard units permanently stationed in the resort town and multiple checkpoints on the road from Srinagar, Kashmir's main city. Its highest gondola reaches 3,950 metres (13,000 feet) on Mount Apharwat, home to the Indian Army's elite High Altitude Warfare School -- with whose soldiers Arif sometimes trains. (Image: AFP)
Gulmarg has is several military and border guard units permanently stationed and multiple checkpoints on the road from Srinagar, Kashmir's main city. Its highest gondola reaches 3,950 metres (13,000 feet) on Mount Apharwat, home to the Indian Army's elite High Altitude Warfare School, with whose soldiers Khan sometimes trains. (AFP)
Arif mostly competes and trains in Europe and has appeared in four world championships, his best result 45th in the giant slalom in Italy last year. (Image: AFP)
Khan mostly competes and trains in Europe and has appeared in four world championships, his best result 45th in the giant slalom in Italy last year. (AFP)
He delayed his wedding to try to amass enough ranking points to qualify for Beijing, finally earning a slot in the slalom in November -- at an event on an artificial slope inside a giant shopping mall in Dubai -- making him a first-time Olympian relatively late in his career. Shortly afterwards, he won a spot in the giant slalom too. (Image: AFP)
He delayed his wedding to try to amass enough ranking points to qualify for Beijing, finally earning a slot in the slalom in November—at an event on an artificial slope inside a giant shopping mall in Dubai—making him a first-time Olympian relatively late in his career. Shortly afterwards, he won a spot in the giant slalom too. (AFP)
His Olympic appearance comes at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has brought yet another slump in tourism, said the skier's father, Mohammad Yaseen Khan, whose younger son Merajudin is a national-level snowboarder. "So we have problems aplenty, but that's life," he said. "Arif making it to the Winter Games has more than made up for any trouble we faced." (Image: AFP)
His Olympic appearance comes at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has brought yet another slump in tourism, said the skier's father, Mohammad Yaseen Khan, whose younger son Merajudin is a national-level snowboarder. "So we have problems aplenty, but that's life," he said. "Arif making it to the Winter Games has more than made up for any trouble we faced." (AFP)
Arif would like his Games debut to promote India as a skiing destination and raise sporting standards. "The amount and quality of snow we receive is good," he said. "If we get some more infrastructure developed in the next few years, we might really reach the level of the European athletes." (Image: AFP)
Khan would like his Games debut to promote India as a skiing destination and raise sporting standards. "The amount and quality of snow we receive is good," he said. "If we get some more infrastructure developed in the next few years, we might really reach the level of the European athletes." (AFP)
But they have a mountain to climb. Ski and Snowboard India, the official governing body for winter sports in the country, was only made a fully-fledged member of the global International Ski Federation (FIS) last year. (Image: AFP)
But they have a mountain to climb. Ski and Snowboard India, the official governing body for winter sports in the country, was only made a fully-fledged member of the global International Ski Federation (FIS) in 2021. (AFP)
None of India's previous Winter Olympians have won a medal and Arif's chances of changing that are slim to non-existent. But he hopes the mere fact of his appearance will make a difference. "If you do good in a country where you have 1.4 billion people, definitely there will be people who will love you," he said. "So I'm introducing skiing, winter sports to the people. It's their choice if they like it or not." (Image: AFP)
None of India's previous Winter Olympians have won a medal and Arif's chances of changing that are slim to non-existent. But he hopes the mere fact of his appearance will make a difference. "If you do good in a country where you have 1.4 billion people, definitely there will be people who will love you," he said. "So I'm introducing skiing, winter sports to the people. It's their choice if they like it or not." (AFP)
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