GOLD COAST: On the banks of the Brahmaputra is an obscure village — Dhing in Nagoan district. Even in Assam, people hardly know about this place. Hima Das’ life too is just like the place she comes from — unknown and mysterious. Until the Federation Cup in Patiala last month, no one had heard about her. Even when she qualified for the CWG by beating established quarter-milers like MR Poovamma and Juana Murmu, people were not convinced. Only when she qualified for the 400m final on Tuesday did people start taking her seriously.
Hima is a raw talent. The way she crouches on the blocks — her legs are not symmetrically stretched — shows her rawness. But she is getting used to the rigmarole of a professional athlete.
Until last year she did not have spikes. She had hurt herself while coming out of the tracks. Someone’s spike had poked her big toe and she was barely able to walk. “I got my first spikes last year,” she says. She had never seen a track until she moved to Guwahati to train at the Sarusajai Sports Complex in the later part of 2016.
Forget the Commonwealth Games, she had never even heard of the national championships. She wanted to be a footballer and represent India. She used to play on a muddy ground in her village. It was Hima’s school teachers who told her to compete in running. When she participated in an inter-district meet, she was noticed by state coaches. Thousands of kilometres away, Nipon Das was an anxious man. Her coach was waiting to see how Hima would fair in Gold Coast. “We spotted her during a state meet and then we thought we should pursue her to compete in athletes. We had to convince her parents and then we brought her to Guwahati.”
Interestingly, athletics is not a programme at the Directorate of Sports and Youth Welfare, Assam. They have hostels for football and boxing. “We have two academies so we had to make arrangements for her. She stayed in the hostel until she was picked in the national camp,” said Nipon.
The only thing Hima knows is running. She is still learning other things. “I am overjoyed to be competing against some of the elite athletes of the world,” says the 18-year-old with blonde streaks. “If I am doing this regularly in big events, I will only improve. I will perform better at the Asian Games.”
When Hima began her career, she was a 100m sprinter. Seeing her speed and endurance, she was entered into a 200m event. It was only at a national camp earlier this year that her coaches decided that she should compete in the 400m. In just over a year, she has competed at the junior Asian Championships, World Youth Championships, nationals and Federation Cup.
“When she was competing at the state championship, she was running fast and we thought she should be given a chance. We only have boxing and football academies in Guwahati but after she started winning medals, we had to do something. The state government helped a lot. We know she is made for bigger things,” says Nipon. Another coach, Nabajit Malakar, too has played a part in her growth.