Cross-country skier Jagdish Singh, who on Friday took part in his first Winter Olympics race in Pyeongchang, believes Indians can win a medal at the 2022 Beijing Games if provided with proper training facilities.
Jagdish, 26, finished 103rd out of 119 athletes who started the men’s 15 km freestyle race at the Alpensia Cross-Country Skiing Centre in Pyeongchang. His finish time of 43:00.3 was nine minutes and 16.4 seconds slower than the gold medallist, Switzerland’s Dario Cologna (33:43.9).
However, the fact that Jagdish was able to compete in Pyeongchang is remarkable considering what he had been through in the build-up to the Games. After securing qualification only in December, Jagdish missed his flight to South Korea earlier this month in the midst of a bureaucratic scramble over who would travel with him.
When he finally reached South Korea a week later than originally planned, there was less than a week left for the race to begin. Jagdish also did not have proper equipment and gear for the race and he had to pay Rs 72,000 out of his own pocket in Pyeongchang two days before his event to acquire them.
After all he had been through, Jagdish was thrilled with his debut in the Olympics. “It feels great,” he said, after the race. “I gave my best and had a good run. I’m happy I was able to finish the way I did. I performed a lot better than I expected to.”
Jagdish, who took up skiing after joining the High-altitude Army Warfare School in Gulmarg in 2011, learnt to ski at the establishment and received all his training there. His coach Nadeem Iqbal, who represented India at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in cross-country skiing, also belongs to the same institution.
After first competing on the international circuit in 2013, the only time Jagdish had travelled abroad previously was to participate in tournaments. Apart from that, the only place he had trained at, is on the slopes of Gulmarg where his Army school is located, and which also houses a tourist ski resort.
‘Four years is a lot of time’
Jagdish feels he would have been able to perform a lot better in Pyeongchang had he been able to train on a proper ski track rather than one that is “ruined by civilians” who walk on it and create potholes. “We need a plain slope, not one with potholes,” said Jagdish. “Here, in Pyeongchang, you’re not allowed to walk on the track.”
Standing at 5’10”, Jagdish believes he is physically on par with other athletes on the circuit but it’s just the ski training that is lacking. “I have the height, I exercise, but we don’t get the same kind of exercise as you need to do for skiing,” he said.
“The muscles you use in a cross-country road race and a cross-country ski race are completely different. If we can train with the other skiers, we can be like them. Right now the only way we can learn is by looking at athletes from other countries while taking part in competitions,” he added.
Jagdish believes that with proper training, India can send not one but even four skiers to the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. “Four years is a lot of time,” he said. “If they can train us properly, we can be ready for 2022. We can even win a medal.”
Jagdish has no idea what’s in store for him after returning to India. He can only hope that the Winter Games Federation of India and the Indian Olympic Association listen to his pleas and sends him abroad for proper training. “Agar woh bhejenge, toh hoga,” he said. “Aise hi time pass waala kaam karna hai toh phir nahi hoga.”