Arif Khan, Kashmir alpine skier delays wedding, nails qualification for Beijing Winter Olympics

Arif Khan, Kashmir alpine skier delays wedding, nails qualification for Beijing Winter Olympics

The alpine skier from Kashmir postponed his September wedding and chased down a slot in the slalom event.

Arif Khan, India’s alpine skier from Kashmir, had big plans for this year. He was due to get married in September, but as international borders opened up he set his sights on something else. “He decided to postpone his wedding and soon left for Austria to train and focus on qualifying for the Winter Olympics,” his father Yasin Khan said.

On Saturday, the 31-year-old saw his dream turn into reality as he earned a spot at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, slated to be held next February. Participating in back-to-back qualifying events in Dubai, Khan finished 9th, 11th, 11th, and 10th, a string of results that was enough to earn him the ticket to China in the slalom event. Alpine skiing has five categories at the Winter Olympics with slalom being the shortest. It involves skiing between poles or gates with the need for high speed.

“I’m so happy for the boy. It was his dream for so many years,” Yasin said.

Arif’s love for skiing is influenced by his father, who owns a ski equipment shop in Gulmarg and has been conducting skiing and trekking tours since the 1980s. Yasin, who describes himself as one of the earliest guides in the region, recalls a four-year-old Arif tagging along on one such tour.

“That was his first experience with skiing,” Yasin said. From early 2000, Arif took up skiing competitively, graduating from district to state to national level meets. A multiple-time national and south Asian champion, his first international exposure in skiing—according to information on the International Ski Federation website—was in 2006 at an event in Japan.

He has taken part in four World Ski Championships in the slalom and giant slalom categories starting from 2013, including the 2021 edition held in February in Italy. He has also represented India in competitions in Switzerland, New Zealand, Austria, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and Iran.

All of that means rising expenses. Arif spends around ₹20,000 for a day’s training block in Austria, his father says. Skiing is an expensive sport, and winter sports in India receive little or no support. The family had to turn to friends and well-wishers, and before the 2018 Winter Games, Arif started crowdfunding in the hope to make it. He fell short by around Rs1.5 lakh, and his ambition of going to Pyeongchang and representing India was agonizingly not fulfilled.

“I emptied my savings. I emptied my friends’ savings too along with it!” Yasin said with a laugh. “Those were difficult days. It’s been a struggle. But when you have good friends around you, everything feels a bit lighter.”

The father is happy Arif will finally get an opportunity to be where he has always seen himself. Like a good skier, he has managed to slalom through them. “I never lost hope that he will be there one day,” Yasin said. “I hope he enjoys his time at the Olympics.”

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