FOR AN entire generation of young Indians, P T Usha has been a reverential chapter in a textbook, albeit asterisked with Olympic disappointment. But on Sunday, Jakarta beamed pure, surging speed into Indian TV screens — young Dutee Chand and the younger Hima Das made the promise of gold at the finish seem so seductive that the silver barely carried the sigh of a lost final.
A country that can fill up a book on its fourth-place disillusionment, a nation that waves away every conceivable lip-biting let-down with a “koi nahin”, a population that loves its medal-missers no matter what, took a bounding leap into fighting for gold some day. On Sunday though, it was silver for both – Hima in the 400m, and Dutee in 100m.
On a day that Chinese Sun Bingtian crashed the Asian Games 100m record at 9.91s and spoke of the continent’s ability to make up for years of being on the fringe of glory in track and field, the two women put India bang in the centre of a speed-junkie’s sights.
Hima Das, the still-fresh World Junior champ from Finland, came out bounding in her first major senior Games. The full-lap race quickly turned into a duel between World Championship silver medallist Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain and India’s Das running in Lanes 5 and 3.
Hima’s last burst of speed is now imprinted on Indian minds — but it was the start here at Jakarta that cleanly set her apart from the rest of the field. It was Naser, a swaggering Nigerian-born and her — Hima Das of India, who till three years ago was playing football. Just the two, powering on with strong strides and showing no intent to slow down — to fade.
It ended when Naser, leading from start to finish, wolfed down the last crumbs of what was left of the track and create a two-stride distance at the finish. But Hima’s timing — 50.79, going under 51 in the same half-year as she went under 52 — gave a sniff of just how much further she could go while still in her first big season.
It’s not like these medals are unprecedented for Indians at the Asian Games — Manjeet Kaur picked silver in Doha a dozen years ago in the 400m. But Hima’s legs moved like a train picking up pace and the Assam girl was leaving the station from where the blur looks beautiful way behind. Finish lines are terrible for India’s cardiac health, but with Hima running, the only medical condition you were at a risk of, was the bloodrush to the head.
The two had gone head to head in the heats as well, and Hima would later admit that she had drawn two different lessons from racing against the globally famous athlete both times. “I’m very happy with my timing. She’s a big player and I got to learn both in the heats and the finals. She’s a perfect (finished product) athlete, I was playing football three years ago,” she said, putting her silver into perspective.
Pacing the 400m comes with experience and tactical maturity. “There is no time to think in the final. You just got to run,” she said, , though you could see the mind ticking rapidly between the two ears that sported two distinct studs, a pretty black pearl, and a blingy bigger silver.
Unstoppable speed can be extremely addictive. So just as well that Dutee Chand was lining up on the start line for the 100m.
She twirled her hair behind her ear two nervous times. Later, she said, she was nervous because after the semis, her coach had told her off for messing the semis. Dutee, literally, surges like a wave on the track. Her coach’s instructions were that she had to take off still bending and work up the speed while running upright in one smooth motion.
Read | Hima Das: The girl who chases time
In the semis, she panicked and come straight too early. “The starting mistakes I improved in the finals. I ran bending for 30-40 metres and then found acceleration,” she said. Eventually, she missed out on gold by 0.02 seconds, which isn’t too little over 100m.
But Dutee’s medal would be more dramatic. “I ran the last 30 metres almost with my eyes closed, I was pushing myself that much. At the end, I wasn’t sure if I even had the medal, so I didn’t grab a flag. Once they showed it on the screen, I felt confident enough to celebrate,” she said.
Dutee has been circumspect for a large part of her seniors career, given that the prevalent hyperandrogenism rules cast her away from the Asian Games four years ago. “This was like an Olympics for me, because I missed the Asiad last time. But I’m happy everyone who said negative things about me will be happy I won for the country now,” she said.
Her coach had pushed her training from four hours daily to six. “Everything hinged on how I ran. My timing was good. But I had to be fast enough to medal. I went through many emotions — confusion, then hope,” she recalled. And then, she ran like there was no tomorrow.
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