Not one to live with worries and rather ‘hatke’ as one of her coaches Nabajit Malakar describes her, Hima decided to put the process in fast forward mode – only, she was going to use sport over academics to achieve her dream. The 18-year-old is India’s only track medallist at the global level, and is one of the brightest medal prospects at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang which begins on August 18. It was on one of her tours as a junior athlete that she returned with a streak of golden hair – all because she wanted to stand out from the crowd.
Fast, powerful and unperturbed, Hima’s biggest strength is her self-belief. Not just that, she is above the pressure of expectations and tension isn’t a word that is finds place in her vocabulary.
“From when she was a young kid, Hima would do whatever we, her brothers, would do or sometimes even could not do. According to her there is no difference between a boy or girl,” says a very proud older brother Joy Das.
Midway through her teens, Hima was very happily playing football in the boys’ teams in her village and school. And theen, as the cliché goes – the rest was history.
“Nipon and I were convinced that Hima was a special talent and we told her family to let us take her to Guwahati. We decided to personally look after her well-being and she did not hesitate to take the jump,” coach Malakar tells News18Sports over a telephonic conversation.
Less than two years into the sport, the girl from Nagaon district in Assam is the queen of the 400m event in India with an IAAF World U-20 Championship Gold Medal in Tampere and a sixth place finish at the 2018 Commonwealth Games to show for. Add to that a fifth place finish at the World Youth Championships before she clocked 51.97 seconds to win the Federation Cup Gold Medal in the 400m event.
Hima’s event is considered to be one of the tougher ones in track and field, and while most athletes depend heavily on strategy, she had ‘no problems running’ her first ever competitive 400m race.
— IAAF (@iaaforg) July 12, 2018
“It is a good thing for the country that she was picked up when she was. As a coach we can only dream of mentoring such athletes and her success is a moment of massive pride for us,” Malakar says.
“She is always a couple of steps ahead of her opponents, whether it is in terms of effort or being at the forefront. From when she was a kid she would prepare that extra bit and it didn’t matter if it was a race or just a friendly activity.”
After she won the coveted Gold medal at the U-20 World Championship, Hima was in tears when the Indian national anthem played and the tri-colour went up. Next morning, she would wake up to scores of social media notifications from the who’s who of India. The adulation reduced to her uncontrollable crying inside her hostel room.
It is then that India’s second track and field medallist at the global stage after javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, realised what she had achieved. But was she nervous ever – unsurprisingly no. In an interview to ESPN.in before the competition, Hima said, “What’s there to be nervous about? I like running. I’ve told myself just one thing: Tum maje se bhago (Go and have fun).”
She entered the IAAF U-20 World Championship as the fastest athlete in the women’s 400m field.
Her coaches say she treats every race like it is a practice session and nothing more. “All she wants to do is continue to improve her timing. She never speaks about a medal.”
According to her family and her coaches, no one expected Hima Das to centre stage the way she has and that too with such speed.
On August 25, Hima will begin her journey through the qualification rounds at the Asian Games with the qualifiers with the final slated for the day after in the evening.
“Hima does not feel pressure and has never taken tension, but as she builds up to the Asian Games, she repeatedly says ‘I can’t let the people of India down’,” Malakar narrates.
While Hima has her mind set on breaking the Olympic duck for India in track and field in 2020 in Tokyo, her stiffest test till date will be after the third week of August. Her personal best stands at 51.13 seconds, while the world record is 48.25 seconds.
For the longest time, Indian athletes have been nervy and edgy at the biggest stage of them all, but Hima’s uber cool persona has changed that impression and forced people to sit up and take notice.
She is a distance away from the finishing tape, but fast approaching the final half – a part of the race where she excels at going through the gears with great aplomb.
The likes of Milkha Singh and PT Usha have been crowned continental champions and they have gone onto inspire many – Hima makes those watching believe it is possible.