India has had quite a celebrated past when it comes to athletics and sprinting with the likes of Milkha Singh and PT Usha inspiring a generation to take up track and field sports. Following such footsteps was a young sprinter from the rice fields of Assam going by the name of Hima Das, who became a nation’s hero by winning the first-ever gold medal in the IAAF World U-20 Championships back in 2018.
The teenage sprinter took to sport early on - but it was football that captured her heart at first.
Das dreamt of one day representing the Indian football team while playing in knee-deep muddy terrain in Assam’s Dhing village. However, her first coach Nipon Das saw the latent talent she possessed as a runner and convinced her to take up sprinting.
To further bolster Hima’s career, her family decided to send her to Guwahati when she was only 16 years old after she won a bronze medal in a state-level competition a few months prior, without any proper training or the right sports apparel.
It was in the Assamese city, living away from her family, where she began her career as a sprint racer, and following a few successful races in an event in Coimbatore, Hima Das was fast-tracked to participate in the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
She couldn’t accrue a medal in that tournament, despite finishing just 1.17 seconds behind the gold medallist on the day, Amantle Montsho of Botswana. Hima Das may have missed out on a podium finish but with that inspired performance in Australia, she announced herself on the international front and only months later, a very special gold medal followed.
Running the 400m event in the World U-20 Championships in Tampere, Hima made history by becoming the first-ever Indian sprinter to win an international track event.
Das emerged from the pack after 300 metres, overtaking a bunch of her competitors in the final hundred-metre stretch. As she crossed the line, India had finally found another sprinting hero to carry on the legacy of the likes of Milkha Singh and PT Usha.
The youngster continued that fine form in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, winning a silver in the 400m race, as well as in the 4x100 metres mixed racing category. She also hit gold in the 4x100 metres women’s race in thrilling fashion.
With that stellar showing at the Asian Games, Das proved to the world that the gold in Tampere was not a mere fluke while giving the Indian fans a new reason to tune into track and field.
The 19-year-old has continued her rich vein of form into the new year as well, winning two gold medals in the 200m category in Poland, first at the Poznan Athletics Grand Prix and later at the Kutno Athletics Meet.
With her distinct running pattern that allows her to accelerate significantly in the final stretch despite slow starts, Das has managed to outfox her opponents in the past and become a force to reckon with in the sprinting world.
She may be only 19, but she has already proved her mettle on the International stage and her rapid rise to prominence gives India hope that a place on the podium may well be hers at Tokyo 2020.
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