In what can be termed as a groundbreaking achievement in Indian sport, an 18-year-old Hima Das, on July 12, created history by becoming first Indian to win a track gold on an international scale across both the genders and every age group. Competing in the 400-meter event at the World U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland, Das clocked 51.46 seconds, 0.61 seconds ahead of the second-placed Andrea Miklos of Romania.
Das had entered the competition as one of the favourites, having set a personal best of 51.13 seconds at the Inter-State Championships last month. Hima had a ponderous start, to say the least. But by the final 80m, the 18-year-old brisked like a windstorm and cruised past three of her opponents to become the only Indian woman to win a gold medal in a World Championship. The likes of Seema Punia
(2002) and Navjeet Kaur Dhillon (2014) had earlier managed a medal, but a gold had remained a distant dream for the duo.
Prior to Hima’s glory, even the likes of India’s greats, Milkha Singh and P.T Usha couldn’t bring home the glory.
Hima’s leap from absolutely nowhere has been a jaw-dropping one, to say the least. Born to Ronjit Das, who worked in rice fields, in Dhing village in Nagaon district, Assam, Hima is the youngest of five siblings. Picking up football as her primary sport during her school days, Hima seemed optimistic enough as to what she wants to achieve in her career. But before taking that giant leap, a little guidance saw Hima entering the world of athletics in 2016.
The youngster’s initial training method was sprinting in her father’s rice fields before competing in the 100-meter Junior State Championship in Guwahati. Only a bronze was achieved back then but that attainment gave her those golden steps for her golden career. A bronze might have left her a bit distressed, but little did she know she was being watched by Nabajit Malakar who would play a big role in her reaching to the summit.
“I first saw her at a junior state level athletics meet where she was competing in 100m. She was raw but had all the qualities to be a good runner. She was tomboyish and had a swagger about her and despite being a newcomer, she stood out among the others,” remembers Nabajit Malakar as per Firstpost.
Nabajit would go on share what he had witnessed with Nipon Das, one of her first coaches, and both teamed up to write a success story for a farmer’s youngest daughter. “I convinced Nipon to have a closer look at Hima. Luckily, he was convinced and took her under his wings,” remembers Malakar.
“There was no future for her if she stayed back in the village and our first task was to ensure she received proper training. We pooled money to rent a small house near the Sarusajai Stadium in Guwahati for the 16-year-old,” adds Malakar.
Nipon convinced Hima to move to Guwahati, some 140 kms away from her home, and this is where it all began. There Hima was accommodated in Sarusajai Sports Complex. The academy was majorly known for boxing and football, but Nipon convinced the officials to add Hima in the academy.
“There was no separate wing for athletics but the officials were open to Hima being part of the academy after seeing her performances. Assam is not known to produce runners,” he says.
Progressing through the state level championships, Hima began competing on the national circuit before representing the nation at the Asian Youth Championship and the World Youth Championship. A lack of medal in every competition, however, was a disappointing run, but her positive attitude towards every race was something to be very proud of.
“She may not have been the most technically sound runners but she was endowed with tremendous willpower,” quoted Nipon.
Only a year later after taking up racing, 2018 Commonwealth Games came calling, which technically was her first high-profile tournament. A disappointing sixth-place finish was docked, but little did she know that her 51.32 seconds timing was set as an Indian U-20 record. She overcame her own record and went on to clock 51.13 seconds at the National Inter-State Championships in Guwahati, winning the gold.