Hima Das creates history, wins India's first international gold in track events

Hima Das creates history, wins India's first international gold in track events

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Hima Das clocked 51.46s to win the gold, ahead of Romania's Andrea Miklo's (52.07s) and US's Taylor Manson (52.28s)

The start from lane 4 wasn't good. Athletes in lanes 5 and 6 - Australian Ellen Connolly and American Taylor Mayson, respectively had much better starts. For the first 300m of the 400m event, it looked like the gold will go to the American. But then, suddenly after the last turn, 18-year-old Hima Das from India surged ahead in lane 4. It closely resembled the final dash by Usain Bolt in the 100m final at the Rio Games in the summer of 2016. Das crossed the finish line in 51.46 seconds at the IAAF World U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland, on Thursday evening, winning India's first gold medal at a global track event.

"The last 100m has always been my strength," Das said over the phone from Finland on Friday. "The conditions were good at the stadium and the support from the crowd very encouraging."

Coming from behind and winning the race is not new for Das. In the interstate meet in Guwahati last month, she trailed for most of the race before a final dash and a 51.13-second finish, her personal best. Thursday's gold medal was a moment of redemption for Das, who could not manage a podium finish in this year's Commonwealth Games in Australia. Despite clocking a personal best of 51.32 seconds then, she could only manage a sixth-place finish.

Daughter of a farmer, Das comes from Dhing, a small, obscure village about 30km from Nagaon in Assam. Her mother hadn't even heard about the Commonwealth Games till Das's participation. It was enough for her to watch her daughter on TV. That's all that mattered.

There are several other reasons to cheer Das's victory. First, she is from Assam, not a heavyweight when it comes to athletics. Second, her victory three months after the Commonwealth Games, where women won 28 of India's 66 medals, also bodes well for the country and girls playing sports. The gold in Finland is more commendable considering Das ran her first competitive race just about 18 months ago. She always wanted to become a footballer and played with boys in mud pits next to rice fields. However, she moved to athletics at the insistence of schoolteachers. She was first spotted by coach Nipon Das, who insisted that she move closer to Guwahati.

Nipon was not worried about Das's hesitant start in the final race on Thursday. He knows that her race "begins in the last 80m”. He is happy with the progress the athlete has shown in less than two years.

"Very proud of Hima for creating history. It is one of the proudest moments of my life and for Indian athletics," Athletics Federation of India president and former Olympian Adille Sumariwalla was quoted as saying in a PTI report.

Das does not want to think about the past. "I want to focus on the future. Tomorrow, we have the 4x400m race. I am hopeful we can win a medal," she said.

In Thursday's race, as she made her way from fourth position to the lead, Das says there was nothing in her mind except the view of the finish line. There was just one focus, one dream, a single goal in her mind: to reset history. As she surged past competition and won the race by a comfortable margin, she did just that. The American finished third behind Romania’s Andrea Miklo's, and the Australian, a distant fourth.

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