India's contingent at the ongoing Beijing Winter Olympics may have only one athlete but still retains significance. Skiier Arif Khan will be the first Indian athlete to represent the country in two different events at a Winter Olympics.
The 31-year-old from Jammu and Kashmir was first introduced to skiing by his father, Mohammad Yaseen Khan, when he was just four. Yaseen Khan prepared a slope for his son to start practicing skiing, near his own ski equipment shop in Gulmarg, and that's how Arif's love affair with the sport began.
It didn't take long for Arif to start winning trophies at the national stage. He was only 12 when he won the National Championships and at the age of 16, he made his international debut at a junior International Ski Federation (FIS) event in Yomase, Japan, where he finished 23rd in the giant slalom.
Past results and Olympics
Since his debut, Arif has been competing in various events globally. His first foray into FIS Alpine World Ski Championships was back in 2013, where his final ranking in the men's slalom was 59 and 91 in giant slalom. So far, he has featured in four World Championships, and his best result came in the 2021 edition in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, where he finished 45th in the men's giant slalom.
Arif couldn't participate in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics because he failed to raise enough money to compete in an all-important qualifying event in Switzerland. He completed four races in January 2018 and despite turning to crowd-funding, missed the Switzerland event as the qualification deadline passed. The entire episode left him heart-broken, but he eventually moved on with determination to make the cut for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.
How did he qualify for the Beijing Winter Olympics?
In November 2021, Arif earned his Olympic spot after finishing in the top-11 in four slalom races at an indoor Entry League FIS event in Dubai. A month later, he made the cut for the men's giant slalom during an FIS event in Kolasin, Montenegro.
What are Arif's events?
Arif's events -- slalom and giant slalom -- come under the alpine skiing discipline of the Winter Olympics. Alpine skiing has been part of the Olympic program since 1936 and it consists of 11 medal events for men and women.
Slalom, giant slalom, downhill, super-G and combined are the five events in alpine skiing. Arif's competitions -- slalom and giant slalom are considered to be more technical races compared to downhill and super-G which are speed-based events.
In slalom, a skiier will race down a vertical slope of length 180-220m for men and 140-180m for women. The athletes are required to ski through two vertical poles called gates, which usually vary in width between 4-6m. If a skiier fails to pass through the gate, they are disqualified.
Two races on different courses take place and the eliminations begin after the first race based on timings. Skiiers with lowest combined time after two races will be declared winners.
Giant slalom is similar to slalom apart from the slope length and the width between the gates. The descent is between 250-450m for men and 250-400m for women and the width between gates is between 4-8m. The elimination and the timing rules are the same as slalom.
When are Arif Khan's events?
The giant slalom event is scheduled for February 13 and the slalom race will take place on February 16.
The first race in giant slalom will start at 7:45 AM IST on February 13 and the second race at 11:15 AM IST. The timings are the same for the slalom event on the 16th.
Note: Arif Khan is No 85 in the start order on Sunday morning. Each run takes about a minute, which means the Indian will be in action after 9 AM IST.
What are Arif's chances?
Arif hopes to finish in the top-30, saying "I have been training over a couple of years seriously and my expectation is to be in the world's top 30. To be in the top 30 is like medal winners in the world."
Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra of ���� can't wait to see his countryman Arif Khan hit the slopes! ��
Catch the Indian alpine skier in action tomorrow at 7:45 AM IST! ⛷️
- Olympic Khel (@OlympicKhel) February 12, 2022
The Olympics YouTube channel will broadcast live action of the events. Indian viewers can also watch the Games live on Prasar Bharti Sports YouTube channel.