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 country’s record books.
The fledgling sprinter took home the nation’s 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. She’s the first runner in India’s history to medal in the IAAF’s junior championship.
Das’s win is even more impressive given the context of her career. Her first international gold came just 18 months after her first race.
“Her progress just shows how much potential she has. It has been just two years since she first wore spikes,” said coach Nipon Das. “I 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.”
Das, no relation to Hima, has been instrumental in his young charge’s 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 she’ll likely wear at the 2020 Summer Olympics. He brought her from her father’s rice farm in the Dhing village of the Nagaon district to Assam’s training center in Guhawati, some 87 miles from her home. The center, which specialized in soccer and boxing, didn’t have a dedicated branch for track and field — until the younger Das arrived.
“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,” coach Das .
Das will have his work cut out for him as Hima’s career progresses. Her personal record of 51.13 seconds is a strong junior mark, but it would have only placed her fourth at this June’s NCAA track and field championships. There’s clearly still work to be done, but Das’ young age and the tremendous potential she’s shown in just two years as a runner suggest there’s plenty of room to grow. If she can somehow sustain her incredible growth, she could become India’s 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 Das’ big moment on Twitter.
Congratulations to our sensational sprint star Hima Das for winning the 400m gold in the World Under-20 Championship. This is India’s first ever track gold in a World Championship. A very proud moment for Assam and India, Hima; now the Olympic podium beckons! #PresidentKovind
— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) July 12, 2018
In the video below, you will see what makes Hima Das, Gold medalist at the world under-20 Athletics Championship, in Finland, so special!
This is India’s first ever Gold in a track event at a world championship.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) July 13, 2018
— Nikhil Naz (@NikhilNaz) July 12, 2018
Wow! So proud of you Hima Das. Incredible, historic achievement on becoming the first Indian track athlete to win a medal at any global event winning Gold at women's 400m World U-20 Championships clocking a time of 51.47 seconds. Thank you for the happiness. pic.twitter.com/Cs5wY8sDuM
— Virender Sehwag (@virendersehwag) July 12, 2018
Incredible effort from Hima Das for winning gold medal for the country. No words can describe the feelings of this impeccable feat
— Rohit Sharma (@ImRo45) July 13, 2018
Proud on u #Hima! First ever in Track & Field, #U20WorldChampionship In history of Sports India, u will b remembered, u are unstoppable, keep going..✌ coming era is looking forwards to India for bigger sports achievements and brighter future!!
— Vinesh Phogat (@Phogat_Vinesh) July 12, 2018
Das took to Twitter herself to thank her country for its support:
— Hima Das (@HimaDas8) July 12, 2018