‘Black Diamond’

Professional sports have been a path less travelled by Kashmiris; however, off late, the cliché is being cut. After football and cricket Kashmiri youth are all set to make a mark in Skiing. Faisal Shabir Bhat profiles two childhood friends gearing up to compete at a multi-national platform

Azlan Abid and Wasiq-ul-Billa
Azlan Abid and Wasiq-ul-Billa

First it was cricket, then football and now Skiing. Kashmiri youth have, over the last couple of years, proved that,given a chance, they can compete at any level. Getting selected to compete at aMulti-National platform is a rare feat but doing that along with a childhood friend is even rarer.

Skiers and friends Azlan Abid and Wasiq-ul-Billa have landed on other side of the ‘rarer’ line. They have been selected to represent India at the Junior Alpine Ski Championship to be held at Dizan, Iran, from February 27 to March 7,along with them another fellow Kashmiri Syed Haniya will be competing at the tournament.

Azlan is a 12th grade student at SP higher secondary school Srinagar. Wasiq, a recent pass out of Tyndale Biscoe School, is preparing for his medical entrance examinations. The third person in the group Syed Haniya is a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) student at a Jammu dental college.

Both Azlan and Wasiq started skiing at a very young age. Wasiq started way back in 2005 when he was a student of class four while Azlan who is a year younger to Wasiq started the following year.

In the 2008 at the state skiing championship held at Gulmarg, Wasiq won a gold medal. Based on this performance, he was selected for the JuniorNational Skiing Championship at Narkanda, Himachal Pradesh.

Although, Wasiq could not do that well but he says that to be a part of a national tournament was a learning experience.

“I got a lot to learn and given the fact that I was very young the experience was all the more important,” says Wasiq. The tournament at Narkhada indeed proved out to be just a stepping stone for him.

Soon Wasiq participated in the Alpine Premier League, a pan India Skiing competition, held at Manali, Himachal Pradesh. Recognition followed and in 2012 at the senior national winter games held at Auli, Uttarakhand he ranked among top fifteen at the event. And it was finally in 2013 at the national skiing championship held at Gulmarg that Wasiq grabbed a gold medal, buoying him further to do well at the sport.

It was on the basis of this, so far illustrious, career that Wasiq got a call up for the event at Dizan, Iran. However,skiing is not the only sport Wasiq is good at. He is a good swimmer as well and has swum across the Dal Lake for his school.

Azlan’s career like his friend has moved more or less across the same curve. He started his skiing career at the junior national skiing competition at Narkanda, Himachal Pradesh in 2008. His performance at the event was akin to his friend, but a learning experience nevertheless.

“To land amid professional skiers while you are a beginner is an achievement of sorts,” says Azlan, “The exposure is always important,”

He, however, was quicker than his friend in striking gold, that too thrice. He won a gold medal in the 2011 state championship held at Gulmarg, followed by another gold medal in the same year at Gulmarg Cup. The third one for him came later in 2013 at the Salalam and Joint Salalam events (Skiing Races) in Gulmarg.

Following the consistent show of talent Azlan was picked up for the Junior Asian Winter Games at Dizan.

Both the friends maintain that the feat would have been rather impossible without unflinching backing from their folks back home.

 “I have been spending my winter vacations at Gulmarg, since my fourth standard, to participate at various skiing events,” recalls Wasiq, “Academics were hit to some extent but all thanks to my parents who were able to look at the larger picture,”

Besides, the skiers do not forget to mention the huge role their coach, Manzoor Hassan Khan, has to pay in their soaring career graphs. Khan, an ex-teacher at the Tyndale Biscoe School of Srinagar, has been training the skiers ever since they ventured into the sport.

“If it was not for him, reaching where we are today would have been impossible. He has been a great strength and support for us since day one.’’ the boys affirm.

However, the only thing that the boys rue has been missing all through is support from the state government.

The skiers opine that despite better infrastructure and world class slopes at Gulmarg, the skiers from Himachal and Uttarakhand manage to do well at national events.

They attribute this to the better support they receive from their government. According to them the skiers from these states receive far better support and encouragement from their associations than their counterparts in Kashmir do.Unlike Kashmir, young skiers from Himachal are regularly sent to Europe for training which is sponsored by the state. The government of Himachal Pradesh seems keen and enthusiastic about the development of Skiing and other winter sports.

Himanshu Thakur who took part in the just concluded Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia was sent to Austria for training by the Winter Games Association of Himachal Pradesh.

“People from Jammu& Kashmir even after winning medals at national events are hardly encouraged and supported by the government as compared to states like Himachal and Uttarakhand,” the boys said, “It seems that Jammu& Kashmir government is least interested in developing winter games as compared to other places in India.’’

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