Hima Das won India's first-ever track gold medal just 18 months after starting her career
No athlete from the nation of India has ever won a gold medal in track and field at the Summer Olympics. No female athlete from the nation of 1.3 billion has ever medaled in any track event at the games, period.
But 18-year-old Hima Das has the chance to rewrite her countryâs record books.
The fledgling sprinter took home the nationâs first gold medal in any major track event Thursday, using a furious kick down the final straightaway to handily win the 400 meters under-20 world title. Sheâs the first runner in Indiaâs history to medal in the IAAFâs junior championship.
Dasâs win is even more impressive given the context of her career. Her first international gold came just 18 months after her first race.
âHer progress just shows how much potential she has. It has been just two years since she first wore spikes,â said coach Nipon Das. âI keep telling Hima only one thing: dream big. Because only a few are blessed with God-given talent. My aim was to try and make sure she is part of the relay team for the Asian Games. But she has surpassed all expectations by winning a world championship gold in the individual event.â
Das, no relation to Hima, has been instrumental in his young chargeâs success. He has helped develop the former soccer player into the face of track and field in her home state of Assam and, now, for the nation whose colors sheâll likely wear at the 2020 Sum mer Olympics. He brought her from her fatherâs rice farm in the Dhing village of the Nagaon district to Assamâs training center in Guhawati, some 87 miles from her home. The center, which specialized in soccer and boxing, didnât have a dedicated branch for track and field â" until the younger Das arrived.
âThere 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,â coach Das told the Indian Express.
Das will have his work cut out for him as Himaâs career progresses. Her personal record of 51.13 seconds is a strong junior mark, but it would have only placed her fourth at this Juneâs NCAA track and field championships. Thereâs clearly still work to be done, but Dasâ young age and the tremendous potential sheâs shown in just two years as a runner suggest thereâs plenty of room to grow. If she can somehow sustain her incredible g rowth, she could become Indiaâs first athlete to medal in an Olympic track event since 1900.
Indians relished her victory online
While the U20 championships may not have made an impact in the United States, Das had her nation collectively holding its breath as she slid into her blocks Thursday. When she crossed the finish line with her peers solidly in her rear view, India celebrated the historic moment. Lawmakers, celebrities, and athletes across India feted Dasâ big moment on Twitter.
Das took to Twitter herself to thank her country for its support:
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