With his country's flag flying between Iceland's and Ireland's, Keshavan strutted across the icy Salt Lake City stage -- alone.
India, home to 1,029,991,145 bodies, or roughly enough for three Nike factories, has just one athlete at the Games.
Talk about carrying the weight of a nation on your shoulders. This is the second straight time Keshavan has done so. In 1998, he finished 28th in the luge, and the Indian National Olympic Committee sent his father to act as India's "official in charge."
India has competed in six of the 19 Winter Games and has never won a medal. Bermuda, Cameroon, Cyprus, Fiji, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, San Marino, South Africa and Tajikistan also sent just a single soul to Utah. Nine from Liechtenstein, population 32,207, attended. China has a women's hockey team.
Not India. What's going on there? Aren't part of the Himalayas in India?
Now, whenever I see a problem of great social concern such as this, I feel compelled to stand up and do something about it. That's just my nature.
So I employed two friends to train for the 2006 Winter Games. We'll call them "Nisu" (KNEE-shoe) and "Mital" (ME 'so horny'-tall) to save any embarrassment and to minimize their celebrity. All we needed was a sport.
I'd been hearing about this skeleton event, in the Olympics for the third time ever and first time since 1948. Seemed like as good an opportunity as any to bring a medal to the subcontinent.
Basically, skeleton embodies the type of sledding that only the "special" kids in your neighborhood attempted while growing up. On a small sled with steel runners, competitors get a running start and rocket down a hill of ice ... belly down and head first -- known as the "prone" position. The sled and nutcase on top can weigh up to 253 pounds.
I know what you're thinking: India didn't get so populous by tackling such stunts of stupidity. Think again. Mital and Nisu were eager.
A couple of actual skeleton bylaws: Devices to assist steering or braking are prohibited; all competitors must wear helmets with chin guards.
Sounds like good times -- to watch.
Unfortunately, we couldn't locate any helmets on short notice, so a case of beer had to suffice for the first trials. The bottoms of portable TV carts served as sleds. College ingenuity at its finest.
Late at night we headed to South Campus. Skipper Bowles Drive would provide our crude course.
The fierce competitors, ready to serve their homeland, lined up at the top of the hill. A staged face-to-face confrontation to promote the race got a touch out of hand, but once tempers cooled, the insanity was on. Brotherhood.
Mital darted out to a quick start with Nisu on his heels. Nisu reached and yanked Mital's ankle, causing Mital and his sled to turn perpendicular to Nisu's. I covered my eyes but couldn't help but peek as Nisu went airborne. The impact sent him screaming to the curb headfirst. Maybe skimping on the helmets wasn't such a great idea.
Nisu bravely shook it off, and the duo restarted after he was determined to have no serious external injuries by our assistant trainer, Dan -- he's pre-law. This time Nisu started in front, but Mital drafted and charged ahead as they approached the finish. Mital spastically shouted obscenity-laced gibberish at Nisu as he passed, calling Nisu "trashy" and "overrated as hell."
The taunting was premature. Mital blazed into a P2P. The details are ugly. We'll just say he's on the injured-reserved list. But on his deathbed, he will receive total consciousness. So he's got that going for him, which is nice.
After everything they sacrificed for our dream, I didn't have the heart to tell them the International Olympic Committee notified me that to compete for India, they have to be citizens.
Maybe I'll tell them tomorrow.
Mike Ogle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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