The world of Hima Das(h)!

Performances of athlete Hima Das have been spectacular. On available evidence, no 18-year-old girl in history has run the 400m faster. And it is likely that no teen or seasoned pro has slashed nearly 5 seconds in less than a year in the lung-busting athletics event.

Hima Das worships athletics and does puja to the track at the Sarusajai Sports Complex in Guwahati on September 07, 2018 on her return from the Asian Games.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

She does not run out of breath on the track, she does not run out of words off it. Welcome to the world of Hima Das, one she is changing around her with each 400m outing.

On available evidence, no 18-year-old girl in history has run the 400m faster. And it is likely that no teen or seasoned pro has slashed nearly 5 seconds in less than a year in the lung-busting event. What’s more, she started doing the 400m barely about a year ago.

The Arjuna Award in the kitty, the athlete from Assam also has sportswear giant adidas in her corner now.

Her rating as India’s brand ambassador of adidas is a far cry from her first ₹1,200 spikes. “It was a local wala (locally manufactured). I asked papa. He bought it from Guwahati,” says Hima. “It lasted a long time. I played inter-district and nationals in them.”

The spotlight has been chasing Hima for some time now, as she chased better timings. The blur of a 50.79s national record at the Asian Games to bag silver in August, following her gold at the IAAF World U20 Championships in Tampere in July, has propelled her to superstardom. Her U20 gold was India’s first global track title.

Hima with her father Ronjit Das. He bought the first spikes for his daughter for Rs1,200!   -  AP

 

These days, it’s rest and recovery for Hima after a long season. Not to forget, a few brand commitments. She is doing her training sessions, but nothing intense. It's all "dheere-dheere" (slow and steady).

For someone who is hurtling towards creating her own sporting history, Hima is not one for idolising global track stars in her event. Talk of 2016 Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo, or Salwa Eid Naser, who won gold ahead of her at the Asian Games, does not draw her out. She does not dwell on competitors.

“My focus is on getting good practice sessions in and improving my timing. I do not watch 400m videos of others. What I watch is football.” Lionel Messi is the first name you get. “I watch videos of Messi and a few more.”

This is the connect to her days of playing football, which she credits for her startling endurance. This endurance is what sees her slingshot out of the curve after 300m and pass those decelerating rapidly amid lactic buildup. Her deceleration is not as drastic in the final phase of the 400, which quartermilers and their coaches consider hell on earth. The lactic pain makes the mind scream to the body to end the pain. Athletes train to build tolerance to get past this hell on the way to glory.

Four simple words is all Hima needs to explain this. “Football se aya hai (the endurance has come from football).” This seems a Roger Federer-level chill — “It’s all talent. I don’t work. I just sit on the couch. I really just take care of the kids. That’s all.” This was the Swiss great’s 2010 Australian Open semifinal post-match, on-court reply to Jim Courier’s question on fitness and off-season training. After the fast one, the Swiss maestro did admit to working hard.

Similarly, make no mistake, Hima does train for this endurance because athletics takes no prisoners and exposes every single weakness. It’s just that she does not want to talk about it.

Hima stonewalls again when asked about her chats with coach Galina Bukharina, on training, her physicality and about possible changes as she steps out of her teens. “That’s a secret. Cannot let that out,” she laughs.

As she clings on to trade secrets, she let’s on that Bukharina is a hard taskmaster. “But her training is such that we do not feel it is hard work while doing it. Later, we realise how hard the sessions are.”

Incidentally, Bukharina, a bronze medallist with the Russian sprint relay team in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, feels aspirations around Hima should be tempered.

Hima receiving the Arjuna award from President Ram Nath Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, New Delhi, on September 25, 2018.   -  Sandeep Saxena

 

“I have seen athletes who have come up with such a progression before, specifically in the USA and Jamaica, even as young as 16. But when they get older, their natural talent limits them and their bodies change. Natural changes can sometimes cause some conflict to training,” the national coach for quartermilers told Sportstar in September.

She also acknowledged that Hima “is incredibly talented” and has qualities such as “courage, which is not coachable. She has it naturally.”

This incredible “talent” started outrunning everything. “All, 100m, 200m... It was in Class 9, no-no Class 10, when I went to play a school meet that coaches saw me and motivated me to consider running the 400m,” says Hima. “You can do two events too at the distance. The individual and the relay,” she adds.

Incidentally, the women's 4x400 relay is an event Indian athletics administrators have focused on for years as a medal prospect. India hasn’t landed a medal in track and field at the Olympics, but Hima breaking through has added to the excitement.

The teenager isn’t the sort to sweat on technicalities. The sweat is for training sessions. She does not do too much of weight training, but whatever she does is aimed at developing explosive power and speed.

India has warmed up to this athlete, who is also becoming quite a social media darling. As she catches some downtime, her parents, siblings and extended family — she has a “very big one” — can expect some adidas goodies. “I will pick them up in Guwahati.”

The star athlete’s focus will be on two big ticket events next year in Doha: the Asian Athletics Championships in April and the IAAF World Championships in September-October. Then, the big one: Tokyo Olympics 2020.

Be sure, a billion-plus Indians will track her as she blazes the track.