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Athletics

DHING EXPRESS: Hima Das won three medals at the Asian Games, gold in the 4x400 relay, silver in the mixed 4x400 relay as well as the 400 flat. AFP

Hima Das is every bit of a star Indian athletics could have hoped for. The 18-year-old with a penchant for speed, has the swagger, an inimitable style and a rapidly growing fan base. She eases into the limelight and knows how to own it, too; much like the running track, where her exploits have fast accorded her the status of a new sprinting sensation.

Hima’s journey from a little-known village to the dazzling world of fame has forged a rare connect with the Indian masses. Born at Kandhulimari, near the town of Dhing in Assam to Ronjit and Jonali Das, who are rice farmers, Hima is the youngest of five children. Like her elder siblings, she was fascinated by football and played with boys at school. She, however, soon realised the bleak prospects in women’s football and found her calling when one of her teachers veered her into sprinting.

Still, Hima was relatively a new entrant into the 400m when she travelled to the under-20 World Championships in Finland in July. It was less than a year ago that she had switched to 400m on her coach’s suggestion. The race in Tampere, Finland was to change her life forever.  Her come-from-behind blazing run to historic gold, the first by an Indian in a track event at that level, woke up the world to her presence. 

The quartermiler consolidated her popularity in the Asian Games where she clinched gold in the women’s 4x400m relay and silver in the 400m with a national record (50.79 secs).

“I followed what my coaches taught me in training. In the first 300m, I run in control and then I go full speed in the last 100m stretch. You can call it Hima’s style,” she said recalling her gold medal run in the World Junior Championships, her favourite performance till date.

Never short of repartee, Hima’s talent today has got her attention from the world of commerce too. From running in the swampy fields of her village barefoot to wearing low-quality spikes during the local competitions, the Assamese was signed up by German sports brand Adidas who will provide her with running gear, including custom-made shoes. Staying in tune with her sense of humour, Hima during the launch, was prompt in pointing out how her name rhymed with the brand. “Adidas-Hima Das,” she quipped before elaborating on what the association meant to her.

The uninhibited Assamese teenager is gradually becoming aware of the responsibilities which accompany the fame. She banks on inherent nonchalance as she deals with the growing demands on her time and attention. “It feels good, I am thankful that the people want to meet me, speak to me. It makes me realise that I have done something. People know me since my performance in Finland. Media has played a big role too. I enjoy it (attention), but sometimes I get angry too. I am still learning,” she shrugged.

On return from Asian Games, Hima was provided red-carpet treatment by Assam’s people and government. Was she moved? “I don’t’ get emotional,” she shot off, but added: “Yes, it felt good to get such a welcome.”

The next season is already awaiting Hima, who is now referred to as the “Dhing Express”. “This season is over. Next year, there is South Asian Games, Asian Championship and World Championship, so how to approach the different events and prepare? I will do it during training,” she said.

“There are a few targets in my mind. I will do that one by one. People expect a lot from me now and I will achieve that. I timed 50.79 at Asian Games, so even 50.78 is the next step. I thrive in competition, it feels good to improve timings and create records. I don’t show tension and nervousness but I know how fast my heartbeat rises before a race.”

The contribution of Galina Bukharina, Russian-American national coach for quartermilers, has been hailed for the good performances of athletes and Hima couldn’t agree more. “She is very supportive. She herself is an Olympian and sometimes we also don’t realise her methods and later we come to know why we did a particular training. So we always come prepared every day for the challenge that she will throw at us.”

Hima, who withdrew from the IAAF Continental Cup, chose not to comment on it. However, she brightens up when mentioned about her Arjuna Award, which she would be receiving from the president on September 25. The announcement of award prompted another round of celebration in her village. “I didn’t expect it at 18. I expected it next year. I am really thankful for that,” she grinned.

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