India’s first international skiing medalist aims for Winter Olympic

Indian skier Aanchal Thakur, who won a bronze at the Ejder 3200 Cup slalom in Turkey poses with her medal in New Delhi. (AFP)
Updated 19 January 2018

India’s first international skiing medalist aims for Winter Olympic

NEW DELHI: -She has already defied the odds in a country fixated on cricket rather than the slopes to win India’s first international skiing medal — but Aanchal Thakur insists she is just getting started.
The 21-year-old dreams of following her older brother Himanshu to compete in the Winter Olympics, a feat so improbable only one Indian woman has ever done it.
She credits Himanshu with inspiring her to dedicate herself to what remains a highly niche sport, despite her family’s best efforts, in a country where cricketers are idolized and skiing is sidelined.
Aanchal made Indian sporting history when she won a bronze medal last week at the Ejder 3200 Cup slalom in Turkey, but did not amass enough points to qualify for next month’s Pyeongchang Games in South Korea.
But she is determined to make the cut for the 2022 edition in China.
Himanshu, 24, India’s top male skier, made his Olympic debut at the 2014 Sochi Games and races on Saturday in Iran as he bids to compete in Pyeongchang.
“Now he is so close to the Olympic Games. He was pushing me also. I will make sure that I will be there with him in 2022,” said Aanchal, who was India’s national ski champion in 2014 and 2017.
“There is no rivalry, I must say, because he is always helping me (with) technique, always supporting me, motivating me.”
Her success in Turkey promises to dramatically raise the profile of skiing in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick to congratulate her after she clinched the historic medal, tweeting that the whole country was “ecstatic.”
Aanchal’s name went viral on social media, with many hailing her achievement as a leap forward for Indian sportswomen.
Skiing badly needs greater recognition to take off in India. Neha Ahuja, who competed in Turin in 2006, remains the only woman ever to have represented the vast country at a Winter Olympics.
“This medal will be a turning point for ski and winter sports in India. I can see a bright future (for) skiing in India,” Aanchal told AFP.
“Now I think the government will support us. There can be nothing bigger than getting praised by PM Modi ji. So I think that everybody is aware of skiing now.”

Ski-crazy family

Aanchal comes from a ski-crazy family in the northern Indian hill town of Manali and her father Roshan Thakur is secretary of the Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI).
But in a brutal reminder of the second-class status of skiing in India, WGFI is not even recognized by India’s sports ministry and must fend for itself in a sport that requires expensive equipment.
The sport also is also cramped by a relatively short season in India.
Aanchal started skiing at six and with her father’s encouragement made great strides nationally. But even to make it to international competitions was a huge achievement.
Funding trips to Europe for training has been difficult with the family forced to seek help from the International Ski Federation.
“Apart from my dad, we got some sponsors from the sports’ international body so we could train in Switzerland and in Austria for races,” Aanchal said.
Aanchal sometimes trains in the Solang Valley in the Himalayas but long struggled to gain enough daily runs to be competitive in international skiing. She only goes to India’s main ski centers of Auli and Gulmarg for national championships.
But she insists if she can climb to the summit, then others can follow.
“Cricket is not the only sport in India and I want to say that if you like skiing, please come over (to) Manali or Gulmarg or Auli,” said Aanchal.

Underdogs with bite and sloppy South Korea: What we learned from the Asian Cup second round

Updated 23 January 2019

Underdogs with bite and sloppy South Korea: What we learned from the Asian Cup second round

  • Can the mighty minnows continue impressive run in the UAE?
  • Or will the big guns start to fire in quarterfinals?

LONDON: Asia’s biggest sporting spectacle has reached its quarterfinal stage — and it’s time for teams to find their A-game. While there are few surprises in the last-eight lineup, the form of some of the big-name sides has been less than impressive. Here we deliver our verdict on the second round.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT — Saudi Arabia’s attack

The Green Falcons started the tournament at top speed. They came in as one of the cup favorites and in their opening two matches illustrated why. A 4-0 thrashing of North Korea was backed up with a relatively simple 2-0 victory over Lebanon. Understandably, that raised hopes that Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men could go all the way in the UAE. Alas, it was not to be as a 2-0 defeat to Qatar in their last group clash left them with a tricky tie against Japan. For all their efforts Saudi Arabia were unable to find the back of the net, the lack of firepower upfront costing Pizzi’s team yet again.

BIGGEST SHOCK — South Korean sloppiness

Boosted by the arrival of Tottenham star Son Heung-Min, South Korea were rightly declared the pre-tournament favorites. They had firepower up front, intelligence and creativity in midfield, and experience at the back. In the four matches in the UAE so far, however, they have looked anything but potential champions. They labored to beat Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines and China in the group stage before almost being shocked by part-timers Bahrain in the second round. South Korea now face Qatar in the last eight and, as Son said after their extra-time win over Bahrain, they need to significantly improve if they are to avoid a shock exit before the semis.

UNDER PRESSURE — Alberto Zaccheroni and the UAE

The Whites owe their place in the last eight to luck more than skill. In some ways that is not a surprise — the hosts came into the tournament without their talisman, the injured Omar Abdulrahman, and on the back of a patchy run of form. But, still, the performances on home soil have been underwhelming to say the least. That was summed up with their extra-time win over Kyrgyzstan, who were playing in their first Asian Cup. It was a far-from-convincing performance and Central Asians were unlucky not to beat Zaccheroni’s side. The UAE will have to deliver their best performance for some time if they are to progress further. Their opponents, Australia, have also performed poorly, which may offer them some encouragement.

BEST HIGHLIGHT — The mighty minnows

The big guns have not had it all their own way. That may annoy their fans, but it does show that Asian football is improving. Only a few years ago the idea that Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain and Jordan would look the equals of Australia and Co. would have seemed fanciful. But in the past two weeks the standard shown by the so-called lesser lights has been impressive — and great to watch. Last summer five Asian teams appeared at the World Cup for the first time and it was hoped that showing would act as a springboard for further progress across the continent. On the evidence of the action in the UAE that wish could be coming true.