This is India’s first-ever gold at a world track event.
“I told her that we were all awake to watch her run on television and she cried,” Ranjit Das, who is a rice farmer from Assam’s Nagaon district, told TOI on Friday.
Hima isn’t just a world-class athlete who swept past the stiff competition with ridiculous ease. She is also a socially conscious teenager who took the lead in demolishing country liquor vends in her village Dhing and its neighbourhood. “The girl has the guts to do anything and everything. She is never scared to speak out against illegal things. She is a role model for us and for the country,” a neighbour told TOI. The athlete is fondly called “Dhing Express” by people in her village.
Hima’s golden run at Tampere is the latest chapter in the incredible story of a feisty girl who dreamt of playing football for India before shifting to athletics just two years ago. Das made the change at the behest of Shamshul Sheikh, a teacher in Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, who was impressed by her speed while playing football.
She moved from Dhing to Sarusajai Sports Complex in Guwahati for better training after Nipon Das, one of her two coaches, persuaded her parents to let her relocate.
“He was happy if we could feed her three times a day,” Nipon had told ESPN back in March. A local doctor, Pratul Sharma, was another do-gooder, who raised money for her lodging, the same report said.
The youngest of five siblings, Hima started her athletics career as a 100m and 200m sprinter before shifting to 400m following the advice of senior coaches. Hima won the Federation Cup in her first competitive 400m race and finished sixth at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games earlier this year.
Hima called up Nabajit Malakar, her second coach, from Finland after the win and began to cry, saying: “What have I done?” Malakar, who works with Assam govt’s Directorate of Sports & Youth Welfare, was also moved by his ward’s achievements. “Those were tears of happiness. She was shocked at what she had accomplished,” Malakar told TOI on Friday.
Coach Nipon believes Hima can win a gold at the Asian Games and even break the 50-second mark. “It’s because of proper time, proper facility and proper support that she has achieved all this and will continue to do so in future,” is his belief.
For 52-year-old father Ranjit, Hima has always been a source of motivation. “She is as determined as a rock. Even when I was scared of sending her to train outside our village, she would tell me not to worry. I was motivated seeing her courage,” Das said.