On the slopes of Kashmir, a soldier trains for Olympic medal in Sochi

Nadeem IqbalIqbal belongs to Bharot village in Rajouri and joined the Army in March 2003.

Nadeem Iqbal was praying for early snowfall in Kashmir this season and he believes it is a good omen that his prayer has been answered.

The 30-year-old skier of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry is the first Kashmiri soldier to be selected for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, next month and the early snowfall has allowed him to work more on his technique and increase his stamina and speed.

Iqbal qualified for Sochi at the Federation Internationale Ski Nordic Qualifying Races in Italy and France in November and December. His mates at the Army's High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) are jubilant over the selection and everyone at the school is now praying for a medal.

"Initially, I was not sure I will get selected. My hard work and the faith of my instructors in my skills helped me to qualify," Iqbal told The Sunday Express in between his daily practice sessions of seven hours on the foothills of the snow-capped Affarwat peak in Gulmarg.

"Since my selection, I am putting extra effort. My only aim is to win a medal for my country and I have to improve my speed in the Nordic event," said Iqbal, who is one of three athletes from India who have qualified for the Alpine skiing event.

Iqbal belongs to Bharot village in Rajouri and joined the Army in March 2003. His physical fitness and skiing potential saw him being selected by HAWS instructors in 2004 to learn skiing. "Here, I learned everything about skiing and my instructors turned me an international player from a novice," Iqbal said.

Iqbal's father died when he was only three years old. His mother enrolled him at the Muslim Institute in Phalangarh where he did his early schooling and passed his matriculation examinations. "From my childhood, I was always fascinated by the Army and its discipline. So after passing the class X exam, I decided to join the Army,'' he said.

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