When the 2022 Winter Olympics kick off on February 4, Jammu and Kashmir’s alpine skier Mohammad Arif Khan will be the sole representative of 140 crore people. The athlete has participated in 126 international events, and with the nation’s hopes pinned on him, aims to put India on the global skiing map. Here’s what you need to know about the trailblazer. By Eshita Srinivas
31-year-old Mohammad Arif Khan secured his place in the slalom skiing event of the Winter Olympic Games in a qualifying round in Dubai last year. A month later, he made it to the giant slalom event at a meet in Montenegro. With this, he earned the title of the first Indian to qualify to two different events of the winter games. This achievement, for the Kashmiri native, was a dream come true and the fruit of labour that began very early on in his life.
Arif Khan has been skiing since he was four years old
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Arif was born on March 3, 1990, and hails from Tangmarg in Kashmir, a hill station adjacent to the popular North Kashmir skiing destination, Gulmarg. He was introduced to the sport at a young age by his father, who owns a ski equipment shop and took it up when he turned four. The alpine skier would walk 500 metres through thick snow to practice and reflected on his early days in an interview with The Hindu, “My father had groomed a small ski slope just outside the shop. We started (skiing) at around 9:30 am and went on for hours.” His hometown, which is blanketed in the snow every winter, had a part to play in this as well. “As children, we used to play football and cricket, but there was no playground around us,” Arif noted to the Rediff website. “Skiing was the only convenient sport for us.”
Soon enough, he turned to competitive skiing and steadily made his way through different events. At just 12, in his first appearance at a national championship, he won a gold medal in the slalom event. And he hasn’t looked back since.
The first J&K athlete selected for Winter Olympics, Arif Khan during practise session in Gulmarg. https://t.co/vCKgFOps7q
— J&K Sports Council (@JKSportsCouncil) January 27, 2022
From 2005 onwards, he has represented the country several times in world championships and participated in about 127 events across the globe, in countries like the USA, Japan, Turkey, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Lebanon, and Austria. His international debut was at a junior international ski federation event (FIS) in Yomase, Japan, where he finished at number 23. He then went on to win two gold medals in the slalom and giant slalom events at the South Asian Winter Games in 2011. Then, he headed to the 2013 world skiing championship and finished at number 59 in the slalom and number 91 at the giant slalom event. Additionally, he came in at number 45 in the giant slalom event held at the world championship in Italy in 2021.
Khan skis eight to nine months a year
Kashmir’s Arif Khan from Gulmarg is the only Indian athlete to qualify in skiing events for winter Olympics 2022 in Beijing.
Go for Gold Arif.
You do India proud ?? pic.twitter.com/qEfuHYuWmA
— Lt Gen Satish Dua?? (@TheSatishDua) January 31, 2022
Consistency and hard work underscore the alpine skier’s journey, with him practising through the majority of the year in freezing temperatures. Commenting on the mettle it takes to be successful at the sport, Arif told the Hindu, “It takes physical fitness, the ability to be quick at turns between the gates while going down icy slopes at speed. I ski eight to nine months a year. In Gulmarg, I can ski for just three or four months because of the change in snow conditions. One of the most challenging parts of this sport is enduring severe cold, and training in minus 20 or minus 25 degrees celsius.”
Congratulations to skier Arif Khan for qualifying for Beijing Winter Olympics2022. It is a proud moment for the whole country.@JKSportsCouncil to ensure Arif is provided with world-class training facilities by best-in-class coaches&support staff.I wish him all the best for games.
— Office of LG J&K (@OfficeOfLGJandK) November 20, 2021
Considering how expensive the sport is, the athlete’s funding comes from his father who has poured his income into his son’s journey. Arif also works as a skiing instructor or coach to make up for funds. He gave crowdfunding a shot ahead of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics but fell short by a small margin. However, four years later, he’s finally set to make history and aims to draw attention to India and its potential to be a top skiing destination.
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Speaking to News 18, he said “It has been my dream to introduce the sport to Indians. I am happy to have inspired the youth in my own way by becoming that one person from the mountains to represent this country in the Winter Olympics. Many people are more aware now that there is an opportunity for mountain skiing in India.” He further added, “Right now, I am very proud to carry the India flag in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics this year.” All eyes are now on him as he aims for a top 30 finish at the event.