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Why Karnataka’s Bhavani is the queen of Nordic skiing in India

February 24, 2024
WhatsApp Image 2024 02 24 at 19.02.01 ae4746c1

GULMARG:If there was a prize for the ‘Woman of the Khelo India Winter Games 2024’ underway in Gulmarg, Thekkada Bhavani Nanjugunda would perhaps walk away with the honours. The Karnataka skier, who is also a mountaineer with decent credentials, completed a hattrick of gold medals in Nordic skiing at the iconic Gulmarg Golf Course on Saturday.

Bhavani’s consistency in this edition of the Games, where the technical parameters have been directly managed by the Sports Authority of India, impressed no other than six-time Winter Olympian Shiva Keshavan, who thinks there is a lot to achieve for Indian snow sport athletes, given the fantastic conditions available in Gulmarg.

Thekkada Bhavani Nanjugunda won the 10 km race on Saturday to cap off a very successful KIWG 2024. She had won the 5 km and the 1.6 km races earlier in the championship and has been solely responsible for Karnataka’s fine run in the Games.

A slim girl with average height, Bhavani hails from Karnataka where snow is found as abundantly as water in desert. Bhavani happened to visit Kashmir during winter in her childhood. The snow fascinated her, the 28-year-old recalled.

It was through the NCC where she first got the taste of adventure sports. Bhavani says, “After that I joined Jawahar Mountaineering Institute at Pahalgam where the Principal of the institute and instructors encouraged me to learn cross country.” She never looked back.

For the first time in 2020, she took part in a cross-country race at Gulmarg. “I learned techniques while watching the Army teams,” said Bhavani, adding that the High Altitude Warfare School has been one of her greatest supports.

“I continue my training with Army at Gulmarg who are providing me accommodation and other technical facilities,” she said, adding, “Throughout the year I do endurance training at home”.

“When my friends watch me running everyday, they ask me ‘What is the fun about?’. I tell them I am preparing for the Winter Games. They look a bit puzzled. The awareness on winter sports needs to grow,” said Bhavani, who aspire to represent India at the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan Cortina, Italy.

Bhavani has been conducting seminars to motivate youngsters to take up winter sports.

“Today we see a lot of change as players from non-snow states are seriously participating in Khelo India Winter Games,” said Bhavani. Karnataka skaters dominated the first leg of the KIWG in Ladakh earlier this month.

Bhavani is no stranger to Khelo India Winter Games. On her debut in 2021, she won gold and bronze in cross-country skiing. Interestingly, Bhavani is the first women to represent India in a biathlon event. A biathlon event usually combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting!

Bhavani has a few firsts to her name. She trained in New Zealand and in 2019,became the first Indian woman to hold an international ski instructor certificate.She was the first South Indian to represent the country in the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 2023 in Slovenia. She is the first South Indian and only Indian this year to qualify for the 2023 World Championships!

The future can be bright if the government keeps supporting winter sports in India. The Khelo India Winter Games are a step in the right direction and Bhavani feels athletes from Jammu and Kashmir can do much better since snow is at their footsteps.

“The (J&K) girls are lacking awareness. Family support is pivotal and it is important to break away from stereotypes,” said Bhavani, who wants more junior level tournaments to raise interest and awareness in winter sports from childhood.

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