Hima Das was just playing football with her neighbourhood boys in her back-of-beyond village of Kandhulimari in Nagaon district of Assam. Little did this ‘magical sprinter’ or her village people know then that one day she would bring so much fame and glory not only for her country India, her State Assam, but also for her sleepy little village in the fields of which she used to sprint at the crack of dawn much before the villagers brought their cows to graze.
A report in the The Hindu states that no device can measure the impact created by Hima Das in Tampere, Finland. Considering the buzz the historic gold medal generated in the news and social media, one can safely assume that Hima caught the nation’s imagination when she became the first Indian to win a track event at an elite world competition.
Indeed, her rise is meteoric and nothing short of magical. Her rise is meteoric in the sense that she was spotted just last January and after making light of the hardships of staying alone in Guwahati and breaking one barrier after another, she improved her time in fast-forward mode, first at national and international youth meets and then at the elite competitions.
She went from 25.05 in the 200m at the Asian youth meet in Bangkok in June 2017 to becoming the national inter-state champion a year later, beating the established Dutee Chand with a time of 23.10. She also improved her 400m performance of 55.57 (September 2017) to 51.13 last month when she won the national inter-State crown, deflating the challenge of a seasoned Nirmala Sheoran.
Hima had already entered Assamese folklore with her sporting feats. And on July 12, 2018, this girl became a legend in 51.46 seconds – she became the only Indian to win a track event at an elite world competition – having won gold in the final of the women’s 400m in the IAAF World U-20 Championships at Tampere in Finland. A red-letter day for Indian athletics.
For a country starved of success at the top level, Hima’s feat at Tampere has provided a ray of hope. Now, the whole country is waiting with bated breath to see if she can do what even India’s greatest track athletes – Milkha Singh and PT Usha – failed to do at the 1960 Rome and 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, respectively.
The report quoted Galina Bukharina, India’s foreign coach for the 400m, as saying, “Hima is very talented. We have to be patient working with her and not expect overnight results. Her future is 400m. She is not a sprinter-type and never will be. We have to develop her strengths —natural endurance and a strong finish.”
“No, she cannot be a hurdler,” says Galina. “Coordination is not her strong side, and we will waste her time teaching her to hurdle. In practice, we use hurdle drills twice a week as a tool to develop flexibility and she doesn’t look good at it.”
“India is so big we just have to find new gifted athletes who will love to run hurdles and try to succeed in that event. We need more young talent. I am sure that the Hima example will help us find them,” says Galina.
Her coach and mentor Nipon Das says, “Hima does not see who is running alongside her. She does not run for a medal, she only focuses on improving her time.”
Basant Singh, another coach in the national camp, compares Hima with a young Sachin Tendulkar. “I have never seen such a brave girl. I have seen many athletes whose attitude changes quickly after getting success. Hima is not like them,” notes Basant.
Like the “fearless” Hima herself confesses, “I am a low-key girl from a middle-class family of a small village. I am not a star.” Galina says Hima is ‘dead tired’ after doing thousands of air miles (from her training base in Poland to Guwahati for the Asian Games trials, from Guwahati to Finland, and from Finland to the Czech Republic for the Asiad training). She needs a break.
It’s vital that Hima, who will compete in the 200m, 400m and 4x400m women’s and mixed relays at the Asian Games in Jakarta, is looked after. A long-term perspective is essential to prevent burnout. “She is capable of competing at the top level, but not tomorrow,” says Galina. “It will take a few years to become a real star.”