From Assam’s rice fields, 18-year-old Hima Das gives India its first world gold medal Under-20 World Athletics
Indian sprinter Hima Das scripted history on Thursday as she clinched the gold medal in the 400m final – at the IAAF World Under-20 Athletics Championships in Tampere, Finland – becoming the first Indian athlete to do so in a track event.
The 18-year-old Das clocked 51.46 seconds to claim the top position. Andrea Miklos of Romania came second with a timing of 52.07 seconds to claim silver while USA’s Taylor Manson took home broze after clocking 52.28 seconds.
Das had also led the overall time charts in the semifinals with a timing of 52.10 seconds on Wednesday. She also finished the first round heats on Tuesday
clocking 52.25 seconds.
The Assam girl clocked an Indian U-20 record of 51.32 seconds to finish sixth in the Commonwealth Games 400m final in Gold Coast in April. Since then, she has gone onto improving her timings. She lowered the Indian U-20 record in 400m to 51.13 seconds while winning gold in the recently-concluded National Inter State Championships in Guwahati.
Earlier on Wednesday, Gaurav failed to progress further as he finished fifth in men’s 400m heat and 42nd overall with a time of 48.61. There was also disappointment in the men’s long jump final where M Shreeshankar finished sixth with the best jump of 7.75m.
With this win, Hima joined an elite club of Indian athletes who have won medals at the World U20 Championships. But she is the only runner in a hall of fame that has throwers like Seema Punia (bronze, discus), Navjeet Kaur Dhillon (bronze, discus) and Neeraj Chopra (gold, javelin).
Those who have followed Hima’s meteoric rise had anticipated a podium finish at Finland. After clocking the fastest time in the heats and semifinal, the sprinter had the spotlight on her in a field dominated by runners from the powerhouses US and Jamaica. After her entry into the final, she had managed to a short comment. “I am enjoying,” she said.
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Hima started off with football, kicking the ball with boys in the mud pits next to the rice fields. She was then advised by a local coach to take up athletics.
Soon, the teenager was spotted by Nipon, an athletics coach with the Directorate of Sports and Youth Welfare, 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 a talent in ages,” Nipon says.
The coach asked Hima to shift to Guwahati, 140 km from her village, and convinced the youngster that she had a future in athletics. Her parents, Ronjit Das and Jomali, were initially reluctant to let the youngest of six children leave. But with Nipon not ready to hear a no, they relented.