CHENNAI:AFTER winning her 400m semifinal at the World Junior Athletics Championship at Tampere (Finland), Hima Das was interviewed by IAAF. It was a short byte but Das, who rose to prominence after finishing sixth at the Commonwealth Games in April, conveyed her emotions in the best possible manner. “Happy to have won,” she said. “Confident going into the final and also want to better my timing.”
The 18-year-old walked the talk by not only bettering her time in the final on Thursday (51.46 in the final, after 52.10 in the semifinal) but finishing first by .61 of a second, one of the biggest wins in terms of time recorded by a junior athlete at the event.
Just how big is this? Let the IAAF tell that. “She’s done it,” the official handle posted on Twitter after the Assam girl stormed to victory. “Hima Das is the first Indian woman to win an IAAF world U20 title.” Even if Indians were still coming to grips on this achievement — first gold by an Indian track athlete at the global level — the world governing body had predicted this result. “It’s not often an Indian sprinter lines up in a global championship as the one to beat, but that’s very much the case in the women’s 400m,” it said in the preview.
The race in itself was a straightforward affair: like watching Allyson Felix at the final of a major event. Hima, running in lane four thanks to her superiority in the semifinals, started a bit slow but was up to third place on the bend. On the home straight, she ghosted past Taylor Manson (US national champion) and Andrea Miklos. She even had enough time to slow down as she took the tape, a la Usain Bolt.
Das’ medal means India have won gold in two consecutive editions of the event — Neeraj Chopra finished first in javelin in 2016. But Das’ origin story is what sets her apart from the plethora of young athletes knocking on the door of greatness. The first time she saw an athletics track was in 2016 when she had come to Guwahati to train at the Sarusajai Sports Complex. It was only last year that she procured a proper set of spikes. Heck, she did not even want to be a runner. Football, she believed, was her calling and played on muddy grounds in Dhing village, where she was born, in Nagaon district, some 120 kms from the Assam capital. It was her school teachers who urged her to take up running and a few state coaches noticed her raw talent at an inter-district meet.
Stiffer tests await, but what’s that thing they say about first impressions?