The US is sending 222 athletes to the 2022 Winter Olympics. India is sending just one. NPR reports 31-year-old skier Arif Khan arrived in Beijing on Tuesday and is scheduled to compete in the slalom and giant slalom events later this week. As long as he manages to stay COVID-free, that is. News broke Wednesday that one of his traveling companions (the contingent manager for India's Winter Olympics) tested positive for COVID-19 upon landing in China. Khan has thus far tested negative and plans to continue his training, the Hindustan Times reports. Khan, a native of the India-controlled side of the Kashmir region in the Himalayas, is used to overcoming adversity.
Pakistani and Indian military troops have fought in Kashmir for decades in official and unofficial armed conflicts, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. "If something is going on that's disturbing at home, it's definitely on my mind," Khan said in a December phone interview with NPR. "But I want to succeed so that I can also have an impact on Kashmiri youth, to inspire them toward their own goals." The skier has also faced countless obstacles just to compete: Kashmir does not host major competitions despite being in the heart of the Himalayas, so Khan travels abroad to compete. But India does not offer winter athletes funds the way other countries do.
It costs Khan anywhere from $85,000 to $125,000 per season to train and compete, Reuters reports. Hence, the skier depends on crowdfunding and family support to pursue his sport. For the Olympics, the governments of Jammu and Kashmir and a sponsor are footing 50% of the bill; he's covering the other half. The skier's goal is to finish in the top 30 in the slalom and giant slalom events, for which he qualified in Dubai and Montenegro, respectively. While India has sent other athletes to several previous Winter Olympics, the country has never captured a medal in winter sports. (Read more Winter Olympics stories.)