Hima Das’ confidence, fighting spirit stood out, says PT Usha
Hima Das’ success could renew studies on tapping athletes with the ideal genetic make-up and push the search for more such gems in the hinterland, believes PT Usha.
Hima Das was anointed India’s newest golden girl this month after storming to the 400m victory at the World U-20 Athletics Championships in Finland.
The 18-year-old became the first Indian to win a global track event while emulating javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, who won in the previous edition of the event in 2016, laying a marker for the future of Indian athletics.
While the 51.46 secs clocked in the final has put her among medal contenders at the Jakarta Asian Games, the manner of victory by the 18-year-old from the Assam village of Ding has set the athletics fraternity abuzz.
Showing no nerves at the biggest meet of her life, Hima sparkled under an overcast Finnish sky with her race management as she kicked through in the final 80 m. It was a new for a country that has seen the heartbreaks of Milkha Singh and PT Usha missing out on bronze in Olympic finals.
Usha, the golden girl of the 1980s, knows all about the global stage. She ran the 100m in the 1980 Moscow Olympics as a 16-year-old before emerging as India’s flag-bearer on the track.
A prominent junior coach now, Usha saw Hima’s run first-hand as a coach with the squad.
Hima’s success could renew studies on tapping athletes with the ideal genetic make-up and push the search for more such gems in the hinterland. However, Usha believes the teenager’s fighting spirit was what stood out in Finland.
“At this age, she has exhibited great courage and confidence. I didn’t see any sign of nervousness during the event. The ability to push hard in the closing stages of the race gives her an edge,” she said in an interview.
Usha is confident Hima has a bright chance for a podium finish in the Asian Games. “She doesn’t get overawed by the performance of others, and remains focused. It will certainly help at the Asian Games.”
The daughter of a rice farmer was spotted two years ago by a local coach, who recommended her to another, Nipun Das, in Guwahati. She has made rapid strides once in the national set up.
Usha said Hima’s success at a young age had a lot to do with improved training facilities. “In the early 1980s, top athletes hardly got the kind of exposure needed. I only got one international race before the (1984) Los Angeles Olympics. If I missed bronze by whisker, it was due to lack of experience.”
Usha, who also runs her academy in Kerala and trains Jisna Mathew, another young 400m runner in the national relay squad, said there wasn’t a major shift in training methods since her days, but a masseur and physio with the squad mattered.
“After a hard training day, I used to massage myself. That meant recovery was slow. I had to travel long distances to train on a synthetic track, which added to residual fatigue.”
Hima too built her strength running in fields and playing football as a young girl.
“These days top athletes are getting good facilities the moment they join the camp,” Usha said. “It allows them to train hard over an extended period and recover faster.”
Jisna was eliminated in the semifinals in Tampere. “She was capable of running close to 52 seconds. She had to travel for domestic competitions before the worlds, which spoilt her chances of making the final,” she said.
Usha raised concerns over India’s small pool of 400m runners.
“We have only two good 400m runners. The gap between the leading two runners (Hima and Jisna) and others is four-five seconds, which is a lot. If we have five-six runners clocking close to 54 secs, it will be a big advantage.”
Next year’s world athletics championships will be the next big stage for Hima to be assessed. “It’ll be a good platform to check whether our young athletes are heading in the right direction for 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”