By Prarthana Mitra
On Thursday, Assam’s Hima Das became the first Indian track athlete to win a medal in the World U-20 Athletics Championships. The eighteen-year-old, who hails from a family of rice planters in the Nagaon district, clinched the top spot in the women’s 400m final race on the third day of the tournament in Tampere, Finland.
With the win, she joins a small clique of Indian athletes who have won in past editions of the Under 20 Championships, including Seema Punia (bronze, discus), Navjeet Kaur Dhillon (bronze, discus) and Neeraj Chopra (gold, javelin). But she is the only runner to be felicitated in the hall of athletic fame.
Rice Farmers Daughter,Indian sprinter Hima Das scripts history clinching gold at IAAF world under 20 athletics championship. You made India proud beyond words.
Those tears say it all !!!#HimaDas pic.twitter.com/2ou7nfAWGf
— Vijender Singh (@boxervijender) July 13, 2018
Das, whose personal best is 51.13 seconds, clocked an Indian U-20 record of 51.32 seconds to finish sixth in the Commonwealth Games 400m final in Australia this April.
The latest distinction comes just eighteen months after she participated in the first ever competitive race at an inter-district meet in Assam where she was first noticed by her mentor Nipon Das, an athletics coach with the Directorate of Sports and Youth Welfare.
The Sprinter reserved her best for the last lap
She began the race slow on Thursday, but her blazing surge in the final 80m saw her clock 51.46 seconds as she beat three of her rivals to the finish line.
A constant guiding force, Nipon, was the one who had convinced Hima’s parents to consider an athletic career for their youngest. He had Hima move to Guwahati, 140 km from her village in Dhing, and arranged for her accommodation near the Sarusajai Sports Complex.
WATCH | #HimaDas' family wants her to win more medals, make India shine
The 18-year-old created a history by becoming the first Indian track athlete to win gold in a world championship across all age groups. pic.twitter.com/nHX1OMl8Gq
— NDTV (@ndtv) July 13, 2018
In an interview with Indian Express, he said that he wasn’t worried when Hima wasn’t among the top three at the final curve on Thursday. “Her race begins in the final 80 metres. Her progress just shows how much potential she has. It has been just two years since she first wore spikes,” he said. “My aim was to try and make sure she is part of the relay team for the Asian Games. But she has surpassed all expectations by winning a world championship gold in the individual event,” said the beaming coach.
#HimaDas This is d man, Nipon Das, who discovered her, introduced to synthetic track January 2017 n she is world champion. Also kudos to Dr Putul Sharma n Debojit for shaping her n guiding her every moment, even last@night. pic.twitter.com/xtLlPszc92
— Mrinal Talukdar (@mrinalt1) July 13, 2018
An acute dearth of adequate infrastructure and funding paralyzes athletics as a sport in India, especially for women like Hima Das, hailing from a state that is not known to produce many runners. The state academy in Assam specialises in boxing and football, Nipon Das told Indian Express, adding that it was a challenge convincing them to induct Hima into the fold.
In this light, Hima’s extraordinary achievement deserves more credit than the Athletics Federation of India were willing to spare. Their lukewarm congratulatory tweet drew a lot of criticism from the rest of the enthralled nation, especially for not failing to mention her lack of fluency in English.
#HimaDas speking to media after her SF win at #iaaftampere2018 @iaaforg Not so fluent in English but she gave her best there too. So proud of u #HimaDas Keep rocking & yeah,try ur best in final! @ioaindia @IndianOlympians @TejaswinShankar @PTI_News @StarSportsIndia @hotstartweets pic.twitter.com/N3PdEamJen
— Athletics Federation of India (@afiindia) July 12, 2018
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.