BENGALURU: When India's Arif Khan steps into the Beijing National Stadium for the opening ceremony at next month's Winter Olympics it will mark the culmination of a journey over a decade in the making.
Khan, who has qualified in slalom and giant slalom, is India's sole representative at the Games and his path to the Olympics from the snowy slopes of conflict-ridden Kashmir was far from straightforward.
"It's going to be a big responsibility, being one in a billion and carrying the flag," the 31-year-old Khan told Reuters in an interview. "That will be an inspirational moment."
Khan was introduced to skiing at the age of four by his father and turned professional 14 years ago at 18. He has represented India in 127 international events, competing mainly in Europe on a shoestring budget.
"(In India) this sport is not that popular," he said. You don't get financially supported. That's the biggest challenge.
"If you're training for world-level events ... you require at least 110,000 euros ($124,740) a season. If you're training just for the Olympics, you require about 75,000 euros.
"That's the budget. If you don't have this budget, you're not going to reach anywhere."
Those figures represent a significant hurdle for an athlete from a country where the minimum daily wage is about 176 Indian rupees ($2.37).
Khan's career has been funded mainly by his family. His father has operated a tour company and ski equipment shop in Gulmarg, Kashmir since the 1980s.
"Whatever we used to earn, we (set aside) part of it for my training," Khan added. "Our major income depends on tourism.
"If there's a good year of tourism, it can help me to train and travel for races for three to four months."