The remarkable story of Nepal’s Olympic trailblazer Jayaram Khadka

Jayaram “Jay” Khadka made history at Salt Lake City 2002 as the first athlete from Nepal to compete at an Olympic Winter Games. The pioneering skier appeared in the cross-country sprint and 10km pursuit events to cap a remarkable and moving story.

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Khadka’s story began in 1984, when a wealthy British entrepreneur, Richard Morley, was trekking in the Himalayas. He climbed too high and fell victim to acute mountain sickness, suffering a pulmonary oedema that put his life in serious danger. “I was taken to a village coughing up blood,” recounted Morley. “An ex-policeman called Mr Basu Khadka said he’d go and get help.” Khadka duly walked nearly 100km to reach a phone and call for medical assistance. “I later learnt that he’d covered six day’s distance in three, even though he himself was not well,” explained Morley.

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After making a full recovery, the Briton asked Khadka how he could repay him for saving his life. Worried about his own ill health, the policeman asked if he could take care of his son should he die. Morley agreed, handed him a photograph of himself and then travelled back to the UK. 

Another planet

Returning to Nepal with his family six years later, Morley made his way to Basu Khadka’s village only to find that he had died two years earlier. Remembering his pledge, he set off in search of his son, Jayaram. Entering a restaurant in Bhaktapur, Morley came across a young man sweeping the floor. The youth stared at the visitor and asked: “Are you the man who has come to rescue me?” Morley takes up the story: “He told me his father had given him a photo and that one day the man in the photo would come and rescue him when he was in trouble. I thought: ‘My God. This is the boy I'm looking for’.”

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At Morley’s invitation, Jayaram travelled to England with him in December 1990. Following a lengthy battle with the British authorities, the entrepreneur was finally allowed to adopt the Nepalese youngster. “Landing at Gatwick was like being picked up and put on Mars – a hi-tech, completely different planet,” said Khadka of his journey to Britain. “There were things like escalators, automatic doors, strange food – ham, and red wine: I tried it and was almost sick; it was like drinking paraffin.”

Moving mountains

An experienced skier, Morley noted that his adopted son was a good athlete. Taking him to the French Alps, he encouraged him to take up skiing and began coaching him. By the end of the 1990s, the Briton had founded the Nepalese Ski Association and started planning Khadka’s bid to qualify for the Olympic Winter Games. That bid was hampered when Khadka suffered two injuries in 2001, which scotched his hopes of qualifying for his favoured Alpine skiing events. Undeterred, he switched to cross-country skiing and duly made the cut for Salt Lake City 2002.

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At the Opening Ceremony, Khadka proudly carried his country’s flag with Morley at his side. His results – 79th in the 10km pursuit and 69th in a sprint event – were of little importance. What mattered for Khadka was his place at the Olympics and accepting the rapturous applause of the Salt Lake City crowd when he crossed the line – the culmination of a truly remarkable tale of human endeavour and success against all the odds.