Kashmir’s First Winter Olympian Fights Same Fight 30 Years Later
Kashmir’s first winter Olympian Gul Mustafa Dev talks about his career as a skier and now as a coach.
Gul Mustafa Dev was the first Kashmiri to compete at a Winter Olympics when he, along with 2 other sportspersons, were part of the small Indian team making its debut at the mega event in 1988.
But, his skiing journey didn't even start with dreams of competitive success. As a young man, all Gul wanted was to be close to the sport he had grown to love, and teach others the same.
However, in 1984, he gave it a shot, making his debut at the National Games.
"In those days, I was busy with skiing, I didn’t know much about competitions because I’d never taken part in them. In 1984, the National Games took place and I took part in that but I could not get a medal. Then, I thought to myself, ‘I’m a good skier, why didn’t I win a medal here?'" Gul recalls.
“A few years later, a Swedish lady instructor had come here, Ana, she gave me some training. How to start the race, how to finish the race. There are quite a lot of techniques involved in that,” he added.
With basics in place and skills on his side, Gul participated in the National Skiing Competition in 1986 and won a gold and a silver medal in two different events. The success catapulted him into the Indian squad that took part in the first-ever Winter Asian Games at Sapporo, Japan from 1-8 March in the same year.
Subsequently in 1988, trials were held by Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and WGFI for selecting a team for the 15th Winter Olympics scheduled at Calgary, Canada. He finished first in two events and became part of a 3-member team that was helping India make its debut at the mega event.
“It is every sportsperson’s dream to participate in the Olympics. It was the first time India was sending a team to the Winter Olympics. That was the first time, in 1988, before that no one had gone from here. Then we went there and skied and earned a lot of experience. No doubt we couldn’t put up a lot of competition for the top skiers because their physical fitness and ski equipment and everything… that we didn’t have,” recalls Gul.
Decades later, he continues to be associated with his beloved sport, now as an instructor in Kashmir’s Youth Services and Sports department.
However, the problems remain much the same. Just as he struggled in front of world -class equipment and athletes, his wards face competitors who are trained on top-notch skis, while India’s winter sports’ story remains the same - suffering due to government apathy.
“Our government should sit down and see where we need to get the skis from, how to get them and how much expenditure there will be. It has never happened that the government has said, ‘yeah, we will get the ski equipment.’ Yes, they say it, and make promises that the ski equipment will come but it doesn’t come,” says Gul as he narrates a tale that’s now become part of Indian sports’ folklore - the lack of support from the people who hold designations and offices where their aim is to provide just that.
“We have one boy here, Arif Khan, he is a very good skier, an international skier. He’s competed in a World Cup as well. But he’d gone at his own expense. The government also gave him money but he had spent his own money as well. He had reached the World Cup-level but the question is why are our kids behind when it comes to the Olympics? For that you need to spend money. I don’t think a child or their parents will want to spend lakhs on their own,” adds Gul.
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