Cricket-crazy India raised a toast on Wednesday to Aanchal Thakur, a 21-year-old female student, for winning the country's first international skiing medal in Turkey.
Her bronze medal at the Alpine Ejder 3200 Cup grabbed national headlines and trended on social media all day with Prime Minister Narendra Modi praising her ‘historic accomplishment’ in a sport that few pursue in India.
‘I think the medal is a turning point for skiing in India,’ the young athlete told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone, before returning home on Thursday.
‘I am sure more girls will take it up now.’
It is the first time that the Winter Games Federation of India has won a medal in more than 30 years of international competitions, said Roshan Thakur, the federation's secretary general, who is also Aanchal's father.
‘She made a WhatsApp video call to me and she was smiling and showed me the medal,’ said her father, who is also a former skier, adding that less than 100 of the 700 members of the Winter Games Federation of India are women.
‘I asked her if it was a souvenir the organisers gave to all the participants. We never thought we would win a medal in an international competition.’
Thakur is part of a new generation of gritty Indian sportswomen making history on the global stage.
With bolder aspirations, women are carving out roles for themselves beyond the traditional ones of wives, mothers and housekeepers.
A female wrestler, gymnast and badminton player captured the public's imagination in the 2016 Rio Olympics, along with the rags-to-riches stories of icons, like boxer Mary Kom, who have inspired other women to take up sport.
Thakur, an arts student from the sleepy hill station of Manali in northern India, said she started training at the age of five and was often regarded with awe for travelling alone to train in foreign destinations.
‘My father trained and treated me and my brother equally,’ she said.
Her father hopes the sport will get more attention and facilities after Aanchal's victory.
‘Skiing is not really popular compared to other sports. Many don't even know how to pronounce it - many call it sky-ing,’ he said.
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