Having crossed the finish line comfortably ahead of her opponents, Harmilan Bains sank to her knees. Recovering from the 1500m run in searing conditions at the National Open athletics championships in Warangal, Harmilan was flanked by cameras and mobile phones. As she stood back up, there was only one thing on her mind: “What was the time? I think it’s a national record,” she asked out loud.
When the official time of 4:05.39 flashed against her name on the electronic screen, she let out a loud ‘oh my god!’. She had broken Sunita Rani's record of 4.06.03 set at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan.
On the record, the 23-year-old middle-distance runner says, “I realised it [shot at the NR] in the last 30m. I saw the watch, and I realised I had the chance. For a moment, I thought the watch was slow. I didn’t expect to break the record. Not even my coach and my parents expected it.”
It was sweet redemption for Harmilan, who had to endure the disappointment of missing out on an Olympics berth. She says she has learned from her mistakes.
“That was hard [failure to qualify for the Olympics], and it took almost one month to come back from it. I didn’t make the cut because of pace misjudgment,” she says.
It has otherwise been a breakthrough year for Harmilan, who has made rapid strides in the 1500m events in the Federation Cup and the Indian Grand Prix 4. She is keen to carry the momentum into 2022. On her goals for next year, she says, “Of course, all [Asian Games and Commonwealth Games (CWG)] and even World University. I can get medals there. I will try my best to win in either the Asian Games or the CWG.”
Athletics runs in Harmilan's family. Her father Amandeep Bains is a South Asian Games medallist in 1500m, and mother Madhuri Saxena is a 2002 Asian Games silver medallist in 800m. Heading into 2022, Harmilan feels she can improve on her time by two seconds.
More to come
Earlier, in the women’s 400m, hurdler Vithya Ramraj was an unexpected winner, claiming her first gold medal in the event. Not even Vithya expected to win in a field featuring Dandi Jyothika and Kiran Pahal.
“I didn’t think I would win a medal in the 400m. I just thought ‘why not just run?’,” she says. “I thought I would make only the first five. Luckily Dandi had a foul start, but I didn’t think I would beat Kiran.”
At the end of 200m, she was fifth but breezed to the top on the turn and completed the race in 53.79s, 0.06s short of her personal best. It’s a mighty impressive feat from Vithya, who had contracted Covid in June and was admitted to the hospital for 21 days, which forced her to miss the Olympics trials.
“It was difficult working out and doing warm-ups. If I was running 200m, I will run 150 and then I would walk the next 50. I had taken my first dose of vaccine and struggled for two days with fever, so I delayed my second shot to avoid tiredness,” says the Coimbatore girl.
It was doubly sweet for Vithya with her parents witnessing her win. After the interviews, she ran over to her parents, standing across the steel mesh separating the athletes, and broke into a celebratory jig.
The Asian Games is in her sights next. But before that, there’s still more to come from her in Warangal. She is set to take part in the 400m hurdles, where she won gold in the Federation Cup earlier this year, later on in the Championships.