Hima Das' gold at IAAF U-20 World Championships a sign of things to come, but for now she's a work in progress

‘Fali Dilu’ (I killed the competition) was the first reaction of India’s golden girl Hima Das after scorching the track in the final of the U-20 World Championship in Tampere, Finland. “I am happy to create history but rather than chasing gold, my emphasis was on the timing. A good timing will automatically ensure medals. Whenever I run, I want to create a landmark, a milestone which will not be erased for a long time,’’ says the new sporting sensation from Assam who created history, becoming the first Indian athlete to win a medal in a track event at the World Championship.

India's Hima Das clinched gold at the U-20 World Championships in Finland. AFP

India's Hima Das clinched gold at the U-20 World Championships in Finland. AFP

The 18-year-old hailing from an obscure village in Dhing in Assam came into the final as a firm favourite with the best timings in the heats and the semi-final but started sluggishly. “I was not nervous falling behind in the first 300m because I knew I had the power to make up during the last stretch. In the heats and the semi-final.” Even in the inter-state meet in Guwahati last month, she was trailing to Olympian Nirmala Sheoran for the major part of the race before a last-gasp effort saw her clinch the gold medal.

Starting in lane four, the 18-year-old would go on to finish the race with a timing of 51.46 seconds, slower than her 51.13 that she clocked in Guwahati. “During the heats and the semi-finals here in Finland, I was slightly complacent in the last few steps towards the close of the race and I wanted to rectify it in the final,’’ reveals Hima. She was confident about her victory though the teenager had to endure a few nervous moments before the race because of a brief spell of rain at the venue. But the showers stopped just before the final.

Hima may be the toast of the nation with Bollywood stars and politicians taking to the social media to congratulate her. But miles away, at her village, Hima’s parents were yet to gauge the enormity of her achievements. “Even till yesterday, they had no idea why I was away from home in a foreign land for so long. I had to tell them that I was here to create history for the country. Luckily, they watched my race on television’’ beams Hima.

Back in Guwahati, coaches Nabajit Malakar and Nipon Das, who have been credited to have unearthed the rare talent, are overjoyed. “She is still a work in progress. Hima needs to work on her technique especially at the start of a race to compliment her god-gifted endurance levels. For Hima and her team who have been working with her, our aim now is to bring her timing from 51 seconds to 50 seconds in the 400 metres,’’ says Nabajit Malakar. “Hima had called me before she left for the stadium and she was brimming with confidence. My only concern was she had not run many races in lane four and all her major victories had come while running in the sixth or the seventh lane.’’ The fourth and the fifth lane are considered to provide a slight advantage because the curvature of the track is less which means there are fewer chances of slowing down at the bend and these lanes are reserved for the runners with the best timings in preliminaries.

“Despite her new found fame after the Commonwealth Games, she is still grounded. Away from the running track, she is a normal teenager and she hardly lets the pressure get to her,’’ feels Nipon Das. Neeraj Chopra, the u-20 world champion in javelin two years ago and the poster boy of Indian athletics says though Hima is a very dedicated athlete, she never lets the pressure get better of her. “Whenever I have met her, she is always in a happy frame of mind and this positivity has helped to attain such great heights in such a short time,’’ feels Chopra.

In lead up to the U-20 World Championships, Hima had been training in Poland under the Indian national coach Galina Bukharina. “She is essentially a sprinter and what she has achieved today is very special because she took to 400 metres only last year and has hardly run four to five races in this event. There are plans to send her yet again for a training stint abroad before the Asian Games,’’ says Malakar.’’ Hima will be taking part in both 200m and 400m in Jakarta. “She started as a sprinter specialising in 100m and 200m but her superior endurance levels make her such a force to reckon with. We have found a freakish trait in her- the lactic acid accumulation in her body- the reason for fatigue in other athletes- is considerably less in her and this makes her maintain high stamina even after running full throttle for 300 metres.’’

At the Asian Games, Hima’s main rival in the 400 metres will be the Nigerian-born Salwa Eid Nasser who represents Bahrain. Salwa has four sub-50 second races in 2018 to her credit which makes her a strong contender for gold. Hima lies second in the list of athletes with best timings in Asia this year which raises hopes for a podium finish in Jakarta.

Virtually unknown in domestic athletics circles even a year ago, Hima fast-tracked herself to stardom with a spirited performance in the Commonwealth Games, despite not winning a medal. For someone who wanted to defy stereotypes – be it with her looks by sporting an unconventional hairstyle and body language, the Dhing Express has truly created a new identity by blazing the tracks.

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Updated Date: Jul 13, 2018 17:14:29 IST

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