<
>

Indian still hopes to medal one day

2/12/2002

One in a million? Shiva Keshavan is literally one in a billion. While 211 Olympians marched in behind the U.S. flag during Friday's opening ceremonies, he was the lone athlete walking behind India's banner.

Think about that. You live in a country with more than one billion people and you are the only representative -- the only one.

"One in a billion, yes," he said after Monday's final in the men's luge. "I was really, really nervous. But as I walked in, I got over that and I was really proud to carry the flag around this huge stadium, with 60,000 people, waving to everyone. And I know all these people home are going to be following me on TV. There is no better feeling than that."

Keshavan, 20, is from Himachal, a small village of about 400 in Northern India where his father runs an Italian restaurant. That's right. An Italian restaurant. "He does very well during the trekking season," said Keshavan, whose mother is Italian.

Luge's international organization has been promoting the sport in recent years, and as part of that, it held a clinic in India to recruit athletes there in the mid-90s. And so how was it that Keshavan wound up being chosen?

"I was born in a snowy region and I love snow," he said. "I like to ski, so I was into winter sports.

Which was helpful. So was the fact that "I was the only one who knew what luge was."

He was one of five athletes sent to train in Austria and was good enough at it that he qualified at age 16 for the 1998 Olympics, when he also was his country's lone athlete. He finished 28th that year.

Competing with a sled cobbled together from old parts, he trains in Europe between his studies as a political science major in Florence. He's received a great deal of coaching help from the Italian team but no funding. He says the hefty luge expenses have been paid partly by the international federation and partly by his father.

After his 28th finish in Nagano, he finished a disappointing 33rd Monday but says he intends to keep at it and win a medal one day. He says he also dreams of one day competing with a top-of-the-line sled. "Sometimes, just the equipment will help you win the race," he said.

Keshavan said that this was the first time the luge has been broadcast back to India and he is proud that his country can finally see him compete. On the other hand, he acknowledged that with tensions dangerously high between India and Pakistan, his performance isn't of primary importance back home.

In other words, he's just like those Americans.

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com.