As Hima Das’s car entered the premises of DAV College, Chandigarh, there was a rush of youngsters eagerly waiting for the Assamese athlete. With posters of players like Kapil Dev, Yuvraj Singh and Neeraj Chopra adorning the walls of the college auditorium, Das was constantly approached by students for autographs, most of them taken on the newly bought notebooks for the new academic session. Last month Das had returned to her training after a gap of 38 days and there were murmurs of lack of focus after Das posted her lowest timing in two years in the Indian Grand Prix in Sangrur in the first week of March. While Das had taken the break for appearing for her XII exams, Tuesday’s visit to the college also made her make a statement.
“Mere ko pehchan athletics ne diya. Main jo bhi hun, athletics ke karan hi hun. Par uske sath main education bhi lena chahiti thi. Thoda education le ke mujhe aur gyan milega aur mere future main help karega. (Athletics gave me the identity. Whatever I am today, it is because of atheletics. But I wanted to pursue my education along with that. Education will also help me in gaining knowledge and help me in the future. When I participated in Indian Grand Prix in Sangrur, it was to meet the criteria and my body was not ready. My coaches had made my schedule for those six weeks and I trained on non exam days except for work out. Itna acha nahi bhag payi par thode din tak pta chalega kitna acha bhag sakti him. Main kam karti hun aur mere kam se sab ko dubara pta chalega,” said Das
The last ten months have seen the youngster, who belongs to village Kahndhuimari in Assam, becoming the second Indian to become a World U-20 champion when she clocked 51.56 seconds in the women’s 400 m final in the World U-20 Championships in Tampere, Finland apart from winning three medals in the Asian Games.
While the youngster had first broken Manjeet Kaur’s 400 M national record of 51.05 seconds with a timing of 51.00 seconds in the 400 m heat qualifiers in Asian games, the final at Jakarta saw Das breaking her national record and winning the silver medal with a new national record time of 50.79 seconds. Last year, Das clocked timings of less than 51.50 five times including her timing of 51.46 in the final at Tampere. This year, Das’s best timing has been 52.88 seconds in the federation Cup final last month, where she missed the AFI’s qualifying mark of 50.75 seconds for this month’s Asian Championships to be held in Doha.
Though Das has been named in the Indian team for the Asian Championships, the Assamese athlete knows that it will be a tough task. “Competing at the senior level has made me understand a lot of things. The opponents are much more experienced in the senior category as compared to the junior category and I understand that. I understand that time upar bhi ayega aur niche bhi jayega. It all depends on the practice and the level of competition. Even a person like Sachin Tendulkar gets out sometimes on 0 and then hits a century. I had some problems with my back prior to Federation Cup but now I am okay and looking forward to compete in Asian Championships in Doha,” added Das.
While the youngster competed in 200 M in Asian Games, Das will not compete in the event in the Asian Championships. Though Das’s timing of 51.88 in 400 M is the best timing in Asia this year, last year’s best timing of 49.08 seconds in Asia was clocked by Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser in Monaco. Naser had clocked a timing of 50.09 seconds to win the gold medal in Jakarta.
National coach Basant Singh, who was in-charge of the women’s 400 m group apart from foreign coach Galina Bukharina, believes that Das can improve her timing further. “Hima is young and she has the body and mental strength to excel. The break of 38 days meant that she has to prepare her body again to compete at the International level and then think of improving her time further. We trained in Turkey earlier and after the Asian Championships, we will be going to Japan for World Relay Championships followed by training in Poland starting May 13.
The World Championships take place in September-October and there is enough time for Hima to prepare her body. We have worked on increasing her stamina and endurance slowly after she resumed full training,” said Singh.
As for Das, life has changed but she understand to keep both her “lives” apart. “main change nahi hui. Logon ke man main change hui. People of country showed me respect and gave me love and it helped me win the medals in Asian Games. The biggest change has been that people now get inspired from me. Meri zimedari aur expectations badh gayi hain. Who life bhi alag hai aur game ki life alag hai. When I competed in World Championships, my family did not know. When I won the medal, I talked with my parents and other family members and slept. They were happy but then they once again concentrated on the other important things like their job and farming,” shares Das.
Coach Basant is also quick to add, “On the day of the final in Finalnd, Hima did not have lunch. She told the coaches that you have to take me to KFC if she wins a medal. When she won the medal and we reached the hotel, there were lot of people waiting. She kept her bag in the lobby and asked us to take her to the KFC outlet. She knows when to do what and what is important at that particular time and that is her biggest strength,” explains Singh.
Das knew that she was in the city of India’s best 400m athlete, Milkha Singh. And the youngster is quick to add before she signs off, “Main Milkha sir se kabhi mili nahi. Jab Finalnd main gold jeeta, coaches ne Milkha sir se baat ki. Par main tests aur interviews main busy thi. Hopefully, I will meet Milkha sir soon,” signed off Das.