There is no stopping the ‘Dhing Express’.
On Saturday, Hima Das picked up her fifth gold medal at the Nove Mesto nad Metuji Grand Prix, Czech Republic. She won the 400m race with a season-best timing of 52.09 seconds.
Social media and news publications have heaped praise on India’s most famous track and field athlete, with phrases like ‘Gold Rush’ and ‘Golden Girl’.
Finished 400m today on the top here in Czech Republic today ?♀️ pic.twitter.com/1gwnXw5hN4
— Hima MON JAI (@HimaDas8) July 20, 2019
Not since PT Usha has India celebrated success in track and field to this extent.
From the rice fields near Assam’s Dhing town to the world stage in a little less than three years, Hima Das represents the best of India.
She became the first Indian sprinter to win a gold medal at an international track event in the World U-20 Championships 2018 in Tampere, Finland. She won the 400 m silver at the 2018 Asian Games. She donated half her month’s salary towards flood relief efforts in Assam.
She represents the aspirations of millions of young girls and women, particularly from small towns and villages, who now believe even more firmly that they can reach for the stars.
Amidst all of this, she even remembers to represent both her country and her state – always wrapping both the Indian flag and the traditional Assamese Gamusa around herself when she wins.
And all of this, when she is just 19!.
And while Hima has given us a lot of pride and joy, as fans we also have a responsibility towards her.
Indian sports fans aren’t exactly known for their patience or perspective. Somehow, many fans seem to find it easy to ride along when the wins come but turn vicious when the sportsperson fails.
A lot of it, I believe, is down to the inability of the average fan to manage expectations.
India was expected to win the 2019 Cricket World Cup, and not go down fighting to New Zealand in the semi-finals. And therefore millions derided MS Dhoni for his occasional failure during the event, a man who has probably given more to Indian cricket than anyone in the past decade.
It would be a tragedy, and an insult, if we were to treat Hima the same way in the near future since our expectations from her are sky-high.
Hima has set the bar high for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
So to the undiscerning fan, the expectation is that she will win a medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in either the 100m, 200m or 400m.
However, one look at her best ever timings in recent similar events (11.78, 23.10 and 50.79 seconds), and it’s evident that these times would not have been good enough to even qualify for the respective final events in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
None of the 20 athletes she has faced since 2 July 2019 has a higher personal best than her. Several athletes are specialists in other events like the indoor 60m or 100m hurdles. The ones she will face in the Olympics will be of a wholly different calibre.
Does it mean that she won’t win a medal in 2020?
Of course not. She could, and we all wish that she does.
But as fans, we must not get carried away by Hima’s recent success and then come crashing down on her if she fails as all athletes do at some point in their careers.
By the time the Tokyo Olympics come around, she will only be 20 years old. With time, she will only get better. She needs facilities, plenty of training and a stunning regime to reach that level, and let us hope that we as a nation can ensure that she gets it, without having to make any more personal sacrifices.
However, while we should continue to support, cherish and even on occasion criticize her, but let us not expect miracles in the Olympics and then shame her for not making them.
Let us wait till Hima surprises us all once again. She represents the best of us. As responsible fans, let’s do our best to support her.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)