Like a whole lot of other Winter Olympians from unconventional locales, it all began with “Cool Runnings,” the 1997 comedy about the Jamaican bobsled team at the 1988 Calgary Games. After the movie came out, the Indian Express reports, the International Luge Federation sent its top stars to far-flung places in an attempt to get more people interested in the sport. Austria’s Gunther Lemmerer, the fifth-place doubles finisher in Sarajevo in 1984, was sent to Greece, Bermuda, Somalia and India, where at a scouting camp he discovered the 15-year-old son of an Italian mother and an Indian father who was adept at rolling down a temporary course on a sled with wheels.
One year later, Keshavan was hurtling down an ice track at the Nagano Olympics on a hand-me-down sled, at 16 the youngest competitor in the field and the lone competitor from his country.
“During the Opening Ceremony, I was walking between two massive 200-odd member teams — Great Britain and Italy — and here I was, the only person from my country. I felt like a complete misfit. That’s when some members from the Jamaican team came up to me and said, ‘Hey man, we’ve got to stick it out together!’ ” he told ESPN India. “That’s sport, I guess, it unites us in so many different ways.”
He’s kept coming back every four years since then — PyeongChang will be his sixth and final Olympics — though it hasn’t been easy.
“For many years, I would borrow or rent a sled for the race or training. I would train on my own, because I didn’t have a coach. I would save up on car rentals and flights, asking for lifts from one place to another. Other teams would fly and send their equipment on a bus. I would hitch a ride on the bus to reach the venue,” Keshavan told the Express. “I’ve had to sleep in parked cars, to not go to a hotel. When you’re in that position, you do what you can.”
In 2002, Keshavan’s flight to Montreal ahead of the Salt Lake City Games arrived late, so he had to hitchhike to the U.S. border to catch a bus (a border agent paid his $10 crossing fee because he had no money). Without any help from the Indian Olympic federation officials four years ago — “To them, Winter Olympics weren’t The Olympics,” Keshavan told the Express — he crowdsourced his run to Sochi, putting the names of all his donors on his uniforms. He also made a ludicrous recovery from a crash during a training run, somehow flipping back onto his sled after falling off it at 70 mph during a training run.
Keshavan finished in 37th place in Sochi, not too far from his placement in Vancouver (29th), Turin (25th), Salt Lake City (33rd) and Nagano (28th). Nevertheless, he’s satisfied with what he’s accomplished, as he should be.
“It has been a memorable journey. I did it and loved every moment of it. And everything has come full circle, from Nagano to PyeongChang,” he told the Express. “Not only am I back in Asia, but I am feeling relaxed, like I was for the first run. I can allow myself to be a little carefree.”