Indian sprinter Hima Das won the gold medal in the 400m final at the IAAF World Under-20 Athletics Championships in Tampere, Finland, on Thursday. She is the first Indian athlete to win gold in a track event in U-20 athletics.
Das, the favourite to win in this category, came from behind and beat three athletes in front of her only after the final curve, clocking 51.46 seconds. Her win is even more remarkable considering that she won her first competitive race less than two years ago!
As India celebrates her historic win, a look at her early life and entry into the world of athletics reveals a story that inspires, motivates, and evokes respect.
From Rice Fields To The Race Track
Hima Das was born in Dhing village in the Nagaon district in Assam. The state is not really known for producing champion track and field athletes, but her talent and perseverance meant that she was always destined for the big stage.
Hima is the youngest of five siblings of Jomali and Ronjit Das, who are marginal rice farmers. Her father never had the money to spend to nurture her sporting career, and her village did not even have a proper place to train.
The young Hima Das spent her early years playing football next to the rice fields; she would later take up athletics on the advice of a local coach. Her talent was spotted by coach Nipon Das, a coach with the state directorate of sports, during an inter-district meet.
“She was wearing cheap spikes but she won gold in the 100 and 200. She ran like the wind. I hadn’t seen such talent in ages,” Nipon Das was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.
He advised Hima shift to Guwahati for proper training, and her parents eventually accepted, seeing Nipon’s conviction. Nipon, and another coach Nabajit Malakar went out of their way to nurture and build on her natural talent.
Hima Das And Her Medal Winning Ways
According to ESPN, Hima won her first bronze at the school nationals. That saw her qualify for the Youth (U-18) Nationals in Hyderabad, where she won more medals. She went on further to qualify for the Asian Youth Championship in Bangkok in May.
Though she came seventh in that tournament, it allowed her to qualify for the World Youth Championship in Nairobi, where she became the first Indian to win a medal in a track event.
Hima Das then continued her training at the National Institute of Sports (NIS) Patiala, and won gold at the Asian Games test event in Jakarta. Her proudest moment came at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, where she finished sixth in the 400m event.
Destined For Glory
Her coaches have often been quoted as saying that they were surprised at how Hima kept on improving with basic training, and upped her performance with every race.
“This is something you don’t see in many athletes. She improves her performance with every race she runs. It is nothing short of amazing,” coach Nabajit Malakar told ESPN after she was selected for the Gold Coast CWG.
Their aim over the past few months has been to ensure that she was selected for the Asian Games that begin in Indonesia next month. Thursday’s gold medal has come as a pleasant surprise.
“She has surpassed all expectations by winning a world championship gold in the individual event,” Nipon Das told The Indian Express.