Winter Olympics: Slow and steady, Arif Khan finishes 45thFebruary 15, 2022
Poor visibility, a choppy track and skiers falling left and right was the story of the Giant Slalom event in the Nanqing Alpine Centre at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Out of the 87 skiers to start the race, only 47 were able to complete both their runs in the tricky conditions. India’s Arif Khan’s maiden Olympic appearance saw him come 45th.
With snow falling sideways on a track that boasts of high elevation levels, a hard, icy surface was blanketed with powdery snow. The result saw skiers’ equipment stumbling against the hard bits of snow and leading to many falls.
Arif’s first run saw him take a cautious approach. Scheduled to be the 85th skier to get an opportunity to post a time, the lone Indian at the Olympics decided to go far slower than his competition. Unlike the leaders of the race, who largely stuck to a set racing line and tapped the blue and red gates peppered along the Nanqing circuit with their shoulders at a blistering pace, Arif was content to keep his balance.
Rarely would the outside of his shoulder touch the gates and a longer, slower arch around the gates belied the strategy — this wasn’t the race or the occasion to try to be adventurous but one that required a finish, however late to the party.
The race leader, Swiss skier Marco Odermatt, had other plans. Having dominated the giant slalom season this year with four victories out of a possible at the World Cups, the race was his to lose. And the prognosis didn’t look too good with the 24-year-old after he was out of the racing line around 12 seconds into his first run. But he recovered quickly and took the first run.
On the other hand, Arif finished his first run with a time of 1:22:35 and was at the 53rd spot on the first session of the day.
The second run was delayed due to the weather but began once visibility got clearer. 33 skiers had failed to complete the course on their first attempt.
With some light starting to show on the course and the season’s first snowfall slowing down, Arif set out to complete his second run. Immediately one could see the confidence in this race as the skier’s pace was faster and he adhered to the racing line with a lot more discipline this time around. The angles around the gates were a lot sharper, with the Kashmiri skier attempting to tilt as downwards towards the icy slope as he could at angles.
The gulf in competition though was far too high. Arif finished his second run with a time of 1:24:89, which was a marked improvement on his previous attempt. His total time came down to 2:47:24, which was 37.89 seconds behind race winner Odermatt. Odermatt came under challenge from Slovenia’s Zan Kranjec, who shaved off half a second from the Swiss race leader in the second run. But it was still 0.19 seconds behind for an agonising silver.
“It’s one of my dreams to be at the Winter Olympics and this is my first time. It really means a lot.
“There were like millions of people watching me live back home. I was trying my best to give the best I have got. But the weather was uncertain, you couldn’t see much… like how the slope was used, but it was good,” said the 31-year-old Arif to Olympics.com
Arif still has one more event left at these Olympics. He will be taking part in the Slalom event at the same circuit on February 16th.