Meet India's first international ski champ, 21-year-old Aanchal Thakur
She’s all of 21 years and Aanchal Thakur has already skied her way into history. Last month, the Manali girl became the first ever Indian to win an International medal in skiing. She took home the bronze at the Alpine Ejder 3200 Cup organised by the International Skiing Federation at the Palandoken Ski Centre in Erzurum in Turkey.
Over a telephone conversation, the skiing champ tells us about her training and what led up to the win. “I started skiing when I was five years old,” says Aanchal. “It wasn’t until I was 11 years old that I got to be a part of my first International championship in Lebanon called the Asian Ski Championship. I had set the goal at that point to win, no matter what.” A resident of Burua, a village in Manali, Aanchal’s father Roshan Thakur, the secretary general of the Winter Games Federation of India, is the sole inspiration behind Aanchal’s decision to take up skiing. “My first coach was my father, so you can imagine why he was the reason I entered this sport. Later, my cousin Heera Lal, former Olympian in 2006 in skiing, became my trainer. He helped me get to an international level.” Aanchal’s older brother Himanshu Thakur is also a competitive skiier.
Her win proved to be an instant game changer just before the start of the Winter Olympics in South Korea. The sport, otherwise, doesn’t get that much attention in the country, says Aanchal, admitting that she never expected such an enthusiastic reaction. Following her win, the Twitterverse went into a frenzy with everyone from the likes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore congratulating her. “When I woke up the next morning, I saw a tweet and a few screenshots that my friends had sent me. It was crazy!” says an excited Aanchal. “I couldn’t believe the kind of response coming my way.”
A student at DAV College, Chandigarh, Aanchal is still pursuing her BA degree and says that it is definitely a struggle trying to maintain a balance between the two. “I was in Turkey when my exams were happening in December, so I missed that. But hopefully, I can take them again and make up for lost time.”
Like every sportsperson, Aanchal too undergoes rigorous training and exercises. “There’s a lot of balance exercises that I have to do on a daily basis. I spend some time at the gym and the rest of the time doing these exercises. In terms of the cold and snow, I have always seen snow from a young age, since I am from Manali.” What makes Aanchal’s win so much more historic is the fact that the country lacks awareness and infrastructure for the sports. Moreover, the sport gets zero to no support from the ministries, she shares. Aanchal has however, represented India at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, and also took part in the Alpine skiing- Girl’s Slalom and Girl’s Slalom events.
So what is Aanchal Thakur doing when she’s not skiing? “I don’t get to watch too many movies or even listen to music. But, I do love Priyanka Chopra, and I follow what she does on social media. She is so different and such a powerful woman. When she talks, she is very confident.” In her free time, Aanchal paints or dabbles with art.
Talk about her inspirations and idols and she says that when she was younger, her father was her role model. “Now, in addition to my father, I look up to the American champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist Ted Ligety, who I met in 2015. It was a dream come true!” Also on Aanchal’s list is Mikaela Shiffrin, an American World Cup alpine ski racer and the youngest slalom Champion. What’s next on her agenda? “The 2020 Olympics!” says Aanchal with an air exultation, well aware that this is going to be a huge event in her career. “There’s also the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. My schedules will all start to revolve around these events now. It is going to be much more than what I am already doing!”