With five golds, Hima Das is warming up for the World Championships

The ‘Dhing Express’ brought in a rich haul for India this month
Hindustan Times | By Abhishek Paul
PUBLISHED ON JUL 26, 2019 02:32 PM IST

The railway station in Dhing handles two passenger trains a day. It means the world to its people, a salient link to the outside. In July last year, a bigger ‘Dhing Express’ announced its arrival in the central Assam town’s backyard, and a glory ride has followed since then.

It is no locomotive that has propelled the obscure locality into the national limelight but a girl, all of 20 with a host of records to her name, who has ensured that her place of origin precedes her reputation. Hima Das, or the ‘Dhing Express’, is a pioneer in Indian athletics.

In 2018 July, Hima became the first Indian track athlete to win a gold medal at a global event (Under-20 World Championships in Finland). In August, at the Asian Games in Jakarta, she rewrote the national record in 400m on her way to winning the silver with a timing of 50.79 seconds. That achievement of a teenager reaching a height where no Indian has been before was only compounded by the fact that hailing from Kandhulimari, a village near Dhing, the hurdles were much steeper. Hima’s parents, Ronjit and Jonila, are farmers. Their world is far removed from sports. But Hima had big dreams. She was hooked on football till Shamsul Hoque, her school teacher, advised her to join athletics.

With prodigious talent and willpower, Hima shone bright and accolades followed. She deserved every bit of her new-found fame but it had a flip side. The plethora of felicitations and promotional activities meant she started missing her training. She had to be summoned by her Russian coach, Galina Petrova Bukharina, to the camp in Patiala to resume her training. In April this year, she suffered a back muscle spasm during the Asian Championships in Doha. Her prospects for the World Athletics Championships (September 28 to October 6) in Doha, thus looked bleak. However, the recovery process is well underway and the five gold medals that she won at various meets in Europe this month, has given an added fillip to those hoping for another miraculous performance from Hima. No Indian athlete has had so much success in Europe, but not all of it is worth the weight in gold.

The biggest asset for a sportsperson is confidence and the gold medals that Hima bagged will be a big boost in that aspect. But for Hima to hit the peak in two months at the World Championships, she first needs to qualify. For Hima’s pet events, the qualifying mark is 51.80 seconds in 400m and 23.02 seconds in 200m. Hima’s best effort this year has been 52.09 seconds in 400m (in July in Nove Mesto in Czech Republic) and 23.25 seconds in 200m (in July 17 in Tabor also in the Czech Republic).

Moreover, the competitions in which Hima won the medals constitute the lower rung of events as per IAAF, the world athletics body. The body categorises events from ‘A’ to ‘F’ classes. The Nove Mesto meet, where Hima clocked her best timing of the season, was an ‘E’ level competition; it means that her ranking points won’t increase much.

According to Indian athletics’ director, high performance, Volker Herrmann, Hima will still take some time to reach her best. With two months still to go for the World Championships, the Assam girl has her task cut out.

While running, Hima has an uncanny tendency to hit top gear in the last quarter. Only she can say whether something similar is in the offing this time around too.

With the euphoria that Hima has generated early in her career, everybody hopes that the ‘Dhing Express’ doesn’t lose steam before reaching its final destination.

Hima Das - medals and milestones

The athlete is from Kandhulimari village in Assam. Her parents, Ronjit and Jonali, are both farmers.

Hima is a big fan of Assamese singer Zubeen Garg and uses the hashtag #monjai in her social media posts. It is a song by Garg.

She was a student activist in college and took part in developmental activities.

Das won three medals at the 2018 Asian Games – two golds and one silver. The silver medal came in 400m, where she clocked 50.79 seconds – a national record.

She is the first Indian track athlete to win a gold medal at a global event – the 2018 U-20 World Championship where she clocked 51.46 seconds.

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