In Olympic year, Hima Das makes a shift from 400m to 200m

Nihal Koshie

Hima Das will focus on the 200m this season. (File Photo)

World Junior 400-metre champion and Asian Games silver medallist Hima Das will focus on the 200m this season, which drastically reduces her chances of qualifying for an individual event for the Olympics. Hima will switch back to the 400 metres only next year as her training regimen was affected for the speed and endurance race because of a reoccurring fever, costing her three weeks of training over December and January.

On top of that a back injury, which put paid to her plans of qualifying for the World Championships last year, has set her back. Hima's personal best in the 200 is 23.10 seconds, clocked in mid-2018 leaving her with a mountain to climb to meet the Entry Standards for the Games, set at 22.80 seconds.

The decision to shift Hima to the 200 metres was taken to ease pressure on her to qualify for her favourite event when she is under-cooked. Hima was subject to intense scrutiny the whole of last year as she struggled with a back injury. From the high of setting a national record and winning the 400m silver at the 2018 Asian Games, Hima endured a torrid year and missed the World Championships.

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"It does not make sense to focus on the 400 metres this season because she does not have the basic conditioning level she needs. And in the 400 metres you need a decent amount of endurance and considering that now there is only four and a half months till the end of the qualifying period for the Olympics, we didn't want to make similar mistakes of last season and we didn't want to force anything. If we put her into 400 metre competitions again there would be a lot of pressure. She is still young and and we don't want to rush anything," Athletics Federation of India's high-performance director Volker Herrmann said.

The AFI's think-tank comprising chief coach Bahadur Singh, deputy chief coach Radhakrishnan Nair, 400-metre coach Galina Bukharina and Herrmann took a collective decision to shift the star athlete to 200 metres for this season.

Coaches also hope training for the 200 metres will help her improve speed, which can be handy when she goes back to the longer event in 2021. The target is to get her closer to the average of world-class 400 metres runners (22.80 in the 200m), which in turn can make her go faster in the one-lap race.

"Hima's main limitation now is her speed for a 400 metre runner, so this year as far as individual events go, Hima will focus more on the 200 metres. The goal is to improve her personal best, and from 2021 onwards with better speed base and hopefully with more endurance as well, she can focus on improving her 400 metre performance," Herrmann added.

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Last season, Hima won five gold medals, four in the 200 metres, in less than a month in low-key meets while competing against little-known athletes. She had pulled out of the 400 metres at the Asian Athletics Championships in Doha because of a bad back and making her run the shorter event was portrayed as a way to ease her back into competition.

Yet plans went awry when the AFI had to pull her out of the World Championships after having named her in the 4x400 metre relay and mixed relay squads.

"Last year she was feeling the back injury and we did our analysis after the season with recovery experts, doctors and physiotherapists and the back issues seemed to have been solved now, but then she had fever. could not train properly and that was a setback. So now we are trying to make the best out of the situation and say 'I think it is better she focus on the shorter event' where you don't need such a high volume but the training is focusing on intensity. This will definitely help her in the future," Herrmann said.

There is an outside chance of Hima being part of the 4x400 metre relay squads, but it is too early to predict as the AFI will finalise the team only by mid-May. "May be in the relay she could run but we have to see. It depends of course on the quality of the other runners. Right now it is too early to say."

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The Indian relay squads are set to run against the German national team at the end of May in a quest to give them exposure of competing against one of the top teams in the world and also improving timing to ensure the squads remain in the top-16, the cut off rank for the Olympics.