He is the first Indian to win direct quota spots in two different Winter Olympics events

Arif Muhammad Khan, a young man from Baramulla district of North Kashmir, who has qualified for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, has left the country for his Olympic preparations.

He has been selected for the 2022 International Beijing Olympic Games and is the only Olympic athlete to have had this opportunity.

Khan is an Alpine Skiing athlete and his inclusion was approved by the Sports Ministry’s Mission Olympic Cell (MOC) in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) Core group. The Winter Olympics is scheduled for this February.

During the event, he will take part in the Slalom and Giant Slalom events.

He has also been approved for an amount of Rs 17.46 Lakh under TOPS towards training in Europe and procurement of equipment, reads a statement from the sports ministry.

Right now, Khan is in Austria which is his current training base, accompanied by his coach and physio. The MOC approved the European training camp for Khan for a total of 35 days, after his qualification for the Winter Olympics.

He won the quota in Giant Slalom in a competition in Montenegro in December last year.

He had also earned the quota place for the Slalom event due to which he got the distinction of becoming the first Indian to win direct quota spots in two different Winter Olympics events, besides being the first athlete from the country to get a seat at the Winter Olympic Games 2022.

So far, he has represented India in more than 100 ski events held across the world and has been receiving training in Europe for the most part of last year.

In September 2021, Khan was also supposed to get married but as the international arena opened up for him, he delayed his plans and set out to achieve his goals, according to his father Yasin Khan.

Khan's father owns a ski equipment shop in Gulmarg and that's where the youngster drew his inspiration from.

"Since 1980's, I have been conducting sking and trekking tours. Arif was always fascinated to take part in them and I used to take him along since he was a toddler," said the proud father.

After attaining the right age, Arif began to participate in skiing events at state, national and international levels.

From 2013 to 2021, he has taken part in four World Ski Championships in the Slalom and Giant Slalom. He has also represented India in competitions in Italy, Switzerland, New Zealand, Austria, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Iran, records state.

A breeze of happiness swept across his home district when the news of his Olympic participation spread over.

"There is an atmosphere of happiness among the people of the district and hordes of people are coming to greet the family," said one of his neighbours.

One more Olympian from Kashmir

Gul Mustafa Dev, was the only Kashmiri, so far, who had represented India in the Winter Olympics. He did so in 1988.

In the National Skiing Competition held in 1986, Gul had won the gold and a bronze medal in different ski events. Due to this, the Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI) selected him in the Indian squad, which was to participate in the first-ever Winter Asian Games at Sapporo, Japan the same year.

Subsequently, in 1988, trials were held by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and WGFI for selecting a team for the 15th Winter Olympics scheduled at Calgary, Canada. He secured the first position and got selected in the Olympics that year.

According to him, it was for the first time that India was participating in the Olympic Games and to be part of that was something he still takes pride in.

After coming back, he was offered the job of coach by many foreign federations like the Swiss and French skiing federations but he preferred to stay in Kashmir only to train the young talent.

Later, he applied for a job in the Department of Youth Services and Sports as a skiing instructor. Today, he is the Chief Skiing Instructor and has trained over 12,000 boys and girls since 1993, who have represented Jammu and Kashmir and India at the national and international levels.

Promotion of J&K as a sports Hub

To make snow season in Jammu and Kashmir more attractive to tourists, the government of India is planning to introduce new sports activities in the Union Territory (UT).

"Various activities and winter games will be organised across the union territory to attract travellers to the valley as we did last year," said an official in the Tourism Department.

Last year, Jammu and Kashmir hosted the National Winter Games at Gulmarg under the Khelo India initiative, which is supposed to take place this year as well.

During the inaugural ceremony of Khelo India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said: "These games in Gulmarg show that Jammu and Kashmir is eager to reach new heights of peace and development. These Games will strengthen the resolve for ‘Ek Bharat, Shreshth Bharat."

"This is a step towards making India’s presence felt in the international winter games arena and also make Jammu and Kashmir a hub of winter sports,” he had said.

Athletes from 27 states and Union Territories competed in different Games.

Some of the Games played in the valley include alpine skiing, nordic ski, snowboarding, ski mountaineering, ice hockey, and ice skating.

Recently, snowshoe run and interaction programme was held in Srinagar for the first time. The programme was held during the heavy snowfall season in the state. The event was organised by the Snowshoe Federation of India to boost winter sports in the Kashmir region.

Though snowshoe is new to Kashmir, the sports enthusiasts were quite excited about this event.

"This is a very different activity and I believe the youth of the region will surely excel in this new sport. Chances like these help people to get a great opportunity to showcase their talent," said Aqif Mohammad, a participant.