India at Winter Olympics - Jeremy Bujakowski to Arif Khan

At Beijing 2022, Arif Mohammad Khan became India's 16th Winter Olympian across 11 editions.

By Utathya Nag
Picture by Getty Images

Beijing 2022 marked India’s 11th Winter Olympics appearance.

Compared to the Summer Games, where the country has featured in 25 editions, India’s tryst with the Winter Olympics has been relatively few and far between.

Considering India is a sub-tropical country, the affinity for winter sports is less and therefore, infrastructure is not as developed like those needed for sports in the Summer Games.

Though the Winter Games began way back in 1924, it took India 40 years to put up its first athlete in the quadrennial showpiece.

Jeremy Bujakowski – first Indian at the Winter Olympics

At the 1964 Games in Austria, Jeremy Bujakowski became the first Indian to compete at the Winter Olympics. He was the only Indian at that edition and competed in the men's downhill alpine skiing event.

Born in Lithuania to Polish parents before moving to India and having spent time in the USA for his studies, Jeremy Bujakowski had a lot more exposure to winter sports than an average Indian at the time.

Jeremy Bujakowski couldn’t complete his race at the 1964 Games but went back to compete in three events - men’s downhill, slalom and giant slalom – at the 1968 edition. This time, he finished the downhill and giant slalom events, ranking 53rd and 65th, respectively.

Post the Bujakowski era, India skipped the Winter Olympics for 20 years.

Shailaja Kumar and Neha Ahuja – Indian woman to the fore

India returned to the Winter Olympics at the Calgary 1988 Games in Canada. Barring the 1992 Games, Indians have taken part in all Winter Games since then.

India sent a contingent of three to Calgary 1988.

Gul Dev and Kishor Ratna Rai competed in the men’s slalom event while Shailaja Kumar became the first Indian woman to compete at the Winter Olympics. Shailaja Kumar finished 28th in women’s slalom – the best result by any Indian Winter Olympian at the time.

The next time India had a woman competing at the Winter Games was 18 years later with Neha Ahuja featured in women’s slalom and giant slalom at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy.

Neha Ahuja is the first Indian woman to qualify for the Winter Olympics by meeting minimum qualifying standards. Shailaja Kumar’s slot was an invitational one. To date, Shailaja Kumar and Neha Ahuja are the only two women Winter Olympians from India.

The Shiva Keshavan revolution

India's history at the Winter Olympics is incomplete without the mention of six-time Winter Olympian Shiva Keshavan.

While almost all other Indian Winter Olympians have competed in ski-based sports, Shiva Keshavan introduced luge – a completely different sport – to the country’s winter sports fans. He qualified for his first Winter Games at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.

Aged just 16 back then, Shiva Keshavan also became the youngest luger to qualify for the Winter Olympics at the time. Shiva Keshavan has gone on to compete in five more Winter Olympics since then, making him the most-decorated Winter Olympian in Indian history.

Interestingly, at Sochi 2014, Shiva Keshavan competed under the (International Olympic Committee) IOC flag rather than the Indian tricolour.

Heading into the Sochi Games, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was serving a ban and the three Indian athletes, including Shiva Keshavan, started the Games as Independent Olympic Participants (IOP).

However, the IOA was reinstated midway through the Sochi Games, which allowed the Indian athletes to finish the edition officially representing the Indian flag. But Shiva Keshavan had already finished his event before the ban was lifted and his results were recorded under IOP.

Shiva Keshavan retired after the 2018 Winter Games.

At Beijing 2022, Indian alpine skier Arif Mohammad Khan won quotas in both men’s slalom and giant slalom – making him the first Indian to qualify for two separate events directly. He finished 45th in giant slalom - the best-ever finish by any Indian in the event at the Winter Games but recorded a DNF in giant slalom.

India are yet to win a medal at the Winter Olympics.

Indian athletes at the Winter Olympics – full list

Indian Winter Olympians
Year Number of Indian athletes Names (events)
1964 1 Jeremy Bujakowski (downhill)
1968 1 Jeremy Bujakowski (downhill, giant slalom, slalom)
1988 3 Shailaja Kumar (women’s slalom); Gul Dev (slalom); Kishor Rahtna Rai (slalom)
1992 2 Lal Chuni (slalom, giant slalom); Nanak Chand (slalom, giant slalom)
1998 1 Shiva Keshavan (luge)
2002 1 Shiva Keshavan (luge)
2006 4 Neha Ahuja (women’s slalom, giant slalom); Hira Lal (giant slalom); Bahadur Gupta (cross-country sprint); Shiva Keshavan (luge)
2010 3 Jamyang Namgial (giant slalom); Tashi Lundup (cross-country 15km freestyle); Shiva Keshavan (luge)
2014 3 Himanshu Thakur (giant slalom); Nadeem Iqbal (cross-country 15km classical); Shiva Keshavan (luge)
2018 2 Jagdish Singh (cross-country 15km freestyle); Shiva Keshavan (luge)
2022 1 Arif Mohammed Khan (slalom, giant slalom)

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