Srinagar, Feb 5: As Kashmir’s alpine skier, Arif Khan lead the Indian contingent in Winter Olympics 2022 inside Beijing National Stadium on Friday carrying the Indian tricolor, there were jubilations in J&K with over 1.4 Indians praying for the success of a lone athlete from India competing in the global competition.
There is a reason for that kind of buzz in J&K and sports circle in particular as it is not every day a single athlete from a remote part of Kashmir, represents 1.4 billion Indians at the grandest stage of sports, Olympics.
This time Arif Khan who hails from the Tangmarg area of District Baramulla in Kashmir is the only one from India to have qualified for the Winter Olympics. He qualified in the slalom and giant slalom categories of Alpine skiing. Arif is the first-ever skier from India to have qualified for Olympics in both slalom and giant slalom.
So when Arif Khan, the only one from India to compete in Winter Olympics 2022 along with a small Indian contingent stepped out for the opening ceremony with the tricolor in his hands it created a huge buzz on social media. Everyone from the common man to the top sportsperson was talking about the achievement. From Politicians to bureaucrats everyone was hailing Arif and was seen praising their special achievement.
Soon after the Opening Ceremony, Arif Khan said, thank you all for the support.
“Finally Olympics. Thank you to all who supported me and believed in me. Today India has received global attention as a winter sports destination and I feel great being part of it. Thank you all and see you on the ski slopes in the next few days,” Arif Khan posted on his Facebook page with a photograph from Opening Ceremony.
While being the inspiration for the whole Country, Arif is turning out as the biggest inspiration and role model for J&K athletes who are not known as good in Olympic sports disciplines like Skiing.
Over the years, barring a few Olympic disciplines, J&K athletes have been failing miserably at National-level in A-grade Olympic events.
J&K’s first-ever Olympian, Gul Mustafa Dev who represented India in Winter Olympics 1988 in Calgary, Canada is seeing Arif’s rise as a big boost for the Winter sport not only in Kashmir but across India.
“Arif Khan is No.1 Skier in India and has been working hard over the years. He has represented India in a number of World events and FIS races. He deserves all the praise and attention,” Gul Mustafa said.
“Being only one from Country to be in Olympics is in itself an achievement. There is huge excitement around and everyone I have spoken to is praising and talking about Arif. This lad from Kashmir has renewed buzz for Winter Sports not only in Kashmir but also in the whole of India. I have been getting calls from my friends from all over India, congratulating me for Arif’s feat,” he added.
Before the opening ceremony, Neeraj Chopra who bagged a gold medal in Summer Olympics Tokyo 2020 for India, had sent a special message to Arif Khan. After the opening ceremony, another Olympic gold medallist from India, Abhinav Bindra also posted a special message for Arif.
“From Kashmir to the Olympics! Really proud to see Arif Khan, the only athlete representing India at Beijing 2022 carry the tricolor high!” said Bindra on Twitter.
Back home, apart from creating social media buzz with people sharing videos and photographs from the opening ceremony, there is extra excitement among the young budding athletes.
“ It is a proud moment for all of us and he is representing the whole country on the biggest stage in Sports. For any athlete, it’s a dream to be in the Olympics and Arif’s feat is going to inspire and motivate generations,” said Bilquis Mir who has represented India in World Kayaking and Canoeing championship which is also an Olympic discipline.
“Already there is excitement among our players with everyone talking about Arif. They want to emulate his achievement and want to work as hard as Arif has worked. For the sports in J&K, Arif’s achievement is a much-needed boost,” she said.
The Dronacharya Award-winning coach from J&K Kuldeep Handoo termed Arif’s feat as exceptional that has no parallel in the recent history of J&K sports.
“There are very few who have represented India in Olympics from J&K but to be only one and flag bearer is the achievement that no one has matched ever. Everyone from Kashmir to Jammu is talking about Arif and his feat and how he has achieved his dream,” Kuldeep Handoo said.
“This is a big boost for the sports in J&K and for the first time, everyone is talking about J&K talent across India rather than any unwanted debate. We have been congratulated by one and all for Arif’s achievement and youngsters want to reach similar levels,” he said.
Ski resort of Gulmarg, which is home turf for Arif on Friday evening was also abuzz with excitement with everyone glued to television screens watching Arif in the Olympic opening ceremony.
“Gulmarg is always excited when there is Winter Olympics as everyone here who comes for skiing is a winter game enthusiast. However, this time it is special as the local guy is representing India in Olympics,” said Altaf Mir, a hotel manager in Gulmarg.
“Our guests, as well as skiers, watched the opening ceremony together on Friday, so did skiers and guests in other hotels,” he added.
Since the time Arif qualified for the Olympics, skiing has also got special attention from the youngsters in Kashmir.
“This year there is more enquiry from Kashmir locals for the skiing compared to previous years. Our all courses are fully booked. More and more youngsters want to learn to ski. We call it the Arif effect here in Gulmarg,” said Shabir Dar skiing instructor in Gulmarg.
“Arif has united one and all and there is not a single person across the Country who is not hailing him. He will be a special inspiration for our own athletes, for whom he can act as a motivator to achieve greater heights in sports,” said Sports Administrator Ranjeet Kalra from Jammu.
Arif Khan would be participating in his events on February 13 and 16.