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Vogue India

A footballer turned athlete: The incredible story of Hima Das

Written by: Neelav Chakravarti

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The athlete has created history by winning gold in the women's 400m event at the IAAF World U-20 World Championships.

Nothing sounds better than a rags to riches story in today's world, where poverty is always at a constant high. Born in a poor family in Assam's Nagaon district, 18-year-old Hima Das would never have thought that she would go on to become the poster-girl for Indian athletics.

A day after blazing into the 400 meters final as the fastest runner in the semi-final heats, Das won India's first track gold medal on Thursday, at the IAAF World U-20 Athletics Championships in Tampere (Finland). Clocking 51.46 seconds, she edged out Romania's Andrea Milkos.

When the race started, to a layman, she might have seemed to be losing as she was behind some competitors, but that was just pure athlete strategy in a 400m race - to preserve your energy for the final sprint in the last 100 meters.

Hima Das overcame the odds and won the 400m race in the last 100 meters of the track

Ahead of the final, she blazed into the semis as the fasted qualifier, clocking 52.25 seconds, Then in the semi-final, she clocked in 52.10 seconds.

The historic gold medal might have catapulted her into the limelight, but her journey wasn't easy. She had to overcome the odds and even leave her passion for football, behind.

At the end of the day though, it was her love and passion for football which moulded her into the athlete which she is currently. After all, nobody can become a world-class athlete with just two years of proper practice - you need to be a sportsperson with a natural ability, which football instilled in her.

On 9th July 2018, in an interview with Pranay Bordoloi of Prag News, when asked which sport she played before turning to athletics she said, "I used to play football earlier as a striker. I really wanted to wear the Indian national team jersey one day, but honestly, I didn't even know if a national women's team even existed. Even now, I don't know if they exist. By the way, I have quite a few goals in Assam under my name."

When asked if she could have made it big in football, she further added, "I don't know, but I think I could have made it to the Asian Games at least. Football was my dream at that time until a teacher from my school asked me to try out for athletics".

Shifting away from football and not knowing about the Indian women's national football team wasn't really her fault. The lack of international matches which the team plays is a striking contrast to what is expected. Even the lack of women administrators in the AIFF and state bodies has become a concern.

According to a Hindustan Times report, Indian player Bembem Devi had said, "The administrators do so much for men’s football. I don’t know why they don’t put in as much effort when it comes to the women’s game."

Even the AIFF's Indian Women's League (IWL) doesn't seem to be helping the current condition much, with the I-League and the ISL clubs hardly even interested. The duration of the final round is also a too short, which is around 18 days. In the first edition of the IWL, only one I-League club (Aizawl FC) and one ISL club (FC Pune City) participated, with the basic impetus that it wouldn't make much money. It also doesn't have any home or away games, with the final round held at Delhi's Ambedkar Stadium.

Unlike other world-class athletes who have been practicing their trade since a very young age, Das only got into athletics around two years back and it was only a year ago when she came under the guidance of a recognized coach in the form of Nipon Das.


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On her coach's advice, Hima shifted to Guwahati for better facilities and training. He even convinced her and her parents, that she had a bright future ahead. Nipon also made arrangements with officials to induct her into the state academy.

Speaking to the DNA he said, "There was no separate wing for athletics, but the officials were open to Hima being part of the academy after seeing her performances. Assam is not known to produce runners."  

But, the best part about her story is that she was originally not a 400m athlete. She used to specialize in 100m and then 200m, until nine months back when her coach asked her to try 400m once, in which she timed pretty well. So, from there, her relationship with 400m started off.

Her coach's words of praise about her just never end. In a Yourstory article, he was quoted as saying, "She was wearing cheap spikes, but she won gold in the 100 and 200. She ran like the wind. I hadn’t seen such a talent in ages."

Her track history has been on an upward spiral ever since she entered its fold. During the 2017 Indian Grand Prix in New Delhi, she finished fifth at the 100m event. Then four months later, she proved her mettle again at the Indian Open in Chennai by finishing at top of her pack in the 200m.

In April 2018, during the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, she finished sixth at the 400m event and seventh at the 4x400m relay event.

Watch: Hima Das' interview with Prag News

Although, her win in Tampere has made her the poster-girl, it's not her personal best. During the Inter-State Championships in Guwahati last month, she clocked 51.13 seconds. This year her performances have been on a positive note. She has had podium finishes in 100m, 200m, 400m, and 4x400m relay at Patiala, Jakarta, and Guwahati. Before her gold medal, she came under the spotlight when she qualified for the World Youth Championships in Nairobi last year, where she clocked 24.52 seconds in the 200m event.

Her story has only just begun. This gold medal is just a start. Hopefully, with all the right training and facilities, she could be on her way in becoming a global athletics superstar. But, the main question is, what could have happened if she had received the right football training? Could she have represented India's women's national team, about whose existence she doesn't even know?

Maybe she still can, as many female sportspersons have played two sports simultaneously with the likes of Meg Lanning (cricket and hockey), Suzie Bates (cricket and basketball), and Elysse Perry (cricket and football). Although Ellyse Perry represents Australia's cricket team currently, but she had also represented its football team earlier. Although many of them couldn't continue with the two sports on a long run, but who knows maybe Hima Das can.

Published: Sat Jul 14, 2018 08:31 PM IST

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