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Kashmiri Athlete's Olympic Bid Boosts Dreams of Future Indian Skiers


Mohammad Arif Khan of India passes a gate during the second run of the men's giant slalom at the 2022 Winter Olympics, in the Yanqing district of Beijing, Feb. 13, 2022.

Mohammad Arif Khan's Olympic dream ended ignominiously when he failed to pass through a pair of poles on the Ice River course's last leg, becoming one of 36 skiers who were unable to complete the slalom race.

But that did nothing to diminish his excitement or that of his family and supporters at home in Indian-administered Kashmir, who took huge pride in the only Indian athlete to have made it into the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Kashmiri Athlete's Olympic Bid Boosts Dreams of Future Indian Skiers
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"It was one of my dreams to be at the Winter Olympics and this is my first time. It really means a lot. It's a great message back to our country, to our people to join the winter sports in the future," Arif Khan told Olympics.com after his slalom run.

Khan made history by becoming the first Indian to qualify in two Winter Olympics sports — the slalom and giant slalom. He did better in the giant slalom, placing 45th to register the best-ever Olympic result by an Indian in that event.

Skiers, many inspired by Olympic qualifier Mohammad Arif Khan, practice their skills in Gulmarg, Kashmir. (Bilal Hussain/VOA)
Skiers, many inspired by Olympic qualifier Mohammad Arif Khan, practice their skills in Gulmarg, Kashmir. (Bilal Hussain/VOA)

By simply qualifying, he has become an inspiration to many young people in Kashmir.

Saima Rafiq, a female skier from North Kashmir who is pursuing an advanced course in skiing through the Department of Youth Services and Sports, told VOA that she is inspired by Arif Khan's achievements and hopes to follow in his footsteps.

Karmankshi, another female who lives over 300 kilometers from Gulmarg in Jammu, considers Arif Khan as her inspiration and dreams of participating in a future Olympics.

The road to the Olympics is never easy for any athlete. In the case of Khan, the son of a ski shop owner in the community of Gulmarg, he began at age 4 and won his first national slalom title at the age of 12.

When he was 16, he debuted for India at a junior International Ski Federation (FIS) event in Yomase, Japan, placing 23rd in the giant slalom. He won gold medals at the South Asian Winter Games in 2011, the only edition hosted so far, in both the slalom and giant slalom.

In 2013, Khan had his first taste of the FIS World Ski Championships. The Indian alpine skier was eliminated after finishing 59th in the slalom and 91st in the giant slalom. Khan has competed in three more world championships since then, including his best finish in the giant slalom at the 2021 event in Italy.

Skiers gather on the slopes in Gulmarg, Kashmir. (Bilal Hussain/VOA)
Skiers gather on the slopes in Gulmarg, Kashmir. (Bilal Hussain/VOA)

Khan's proud father, Mohammad Yasin Khan, told VOA it was his "happiest moment" to see his son competing in the Beijing Games. Yasin Khan, an avid skier himself, said Arif had planned to marry in September 2021, but instead opted to focus all of his efforts on qualifying for the Winter Olympics.

Now, Yasin Khan hopes to see many more skiers follow the trail his son has blazed. To attract more skiers to Kashmir, he is calling for the Indian government to carve more trails and slopes out of the region's Himalayan landscape.

The region's Department of Youth Services and Sports already has programs in place to train more skiers. Niyaz Ahmad Wani, a physical education lecturer and skiing instructor who has worked with the department for the last 30 years, said several hundred skiers are going through three-week courses every year.

"Khan and his father have struggled and faced lot of hurdles to earn this place," he told VOA.

Another skiing instructor, Tariq Maqbool, stressed the importance of Khan's achievement as an inspiration to other young skiers. He said he believes that with better skiing infrastructure, Gulmarg can attract many more young people to take up the sport.

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