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Who is Mohammad Arif Khan

Mohammad Arif Khan, a national and South Asian slalom champion in alpine skiing, has become the first Indian to earn a quota for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

4 min By Rahul Venkat
Mohammad Arif Khan in action
(Picture by Getty Images)

Alpine skier Mohammad Arif Khan, India’s only athlete at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, is slowly but steadily becoming the face of Indian winter sports.

Back in November 2021, Arif Khan became the first Indian athlete to earn a Beijing 2022 quota place in the slalom event and a month later, Arif Khan pushed the envelope even further, winning an Olympic quota place in giant slalom at a meet in Montenegro.

The feat earned the Indian skier a unique distinction of becoming the first Indian to win direct quota spots in two different Winter Olympics events.

Though Arif Khan recorded a DNF in men’s slalom at Beijing 2022, the Jammu and Kashmir-born skier clinched a 45th place finish in giant slalom – the best-ever result in the event by any Indian in Winter Olympics history.

“It was one of my dreams to be at the Winter Olympics and this is my first time. It really means a lot. It’s a great message back to our country, to our people to join the winter sports in the future,” Arif Khan told Olympics.com after his giant slalom run.

“As children we used to play football and cricket, but there was no playground around us,” Arif told the Rediff website. “Skiing was the only convenient sport for us.”

Mohammad Arif Khan’s father Yasin Khan owns a ski equipment shop in Gulmarg and so, Arif was always close to the sport. He first took it up at the age of four.

“It was in 1994,” Arif told The Hindu. “We had to walk about 500 metres to the ski shop. And there was thick snow. My father had groomed a small ski slope just outside the shop. We started (skiing) at around 9.30 AM and went on for hours.”

Mohammad Arif Khan turned to competitive skiing when he was 10 years old and steadily rose up the ladder.

At the age of just 12, Mohammad Arif Khan won a gold medal in the slalom in his first appearance at the national championship.

Arif made his international debut for India when he was 16 at a junior international ski federation (FIS) event in Yomase, Japan. He finished 23rd in the giant slalom.

In 2011, Mohammad Arif Khan won two gold medals - in the slalom and giant slalom - at the South Asian Winter Games, the only edition held thus far.

Mohammad Arif Khan’s first taste of the FIS World Ski Championships came in 2013. The Indian alpine skier finished 59th in the slalom and 91st in the giant slalom and was unable to move past the qualification stage.

Since then, Arif has taken part in three more world championships, with his best result being 45th in the giant slalom at the 2021 edition in Italy. It was the first time he qualified for the final in any world championship event.

With skiing being an expensive sport, most of Arif’s funding comes from his father, who poured his income from the ski equipment shop into his son’s career. Arif also doubles up as a skiing instructor or a coach occasionally to make up for the shortfall.

However, ahead of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, Mohammad Arif Khan had to turn to crowdfunding in order to train and cover other expenses in the lead up to the Games. However, he fell short by a small margin and his dream was left unrealised.

In 2021, Arif had planned to get married in September but decided instead to put all his energies into qualifying for the 2022 Winter Olympics, his father told Hindustan Times.

Arif Khan’s efforts and determination have paid off and it may have come four years late, but he has finally fulfilled his dream. The Indian alpine skier will be aiming for bigger and better things in the years to come.

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