We Are All Proud Of Hima Das, But...

TAMPERE, FINLAND - JULY 12: Hima Das of India celebrates winning gold in the final of the women's 400m on day three of The IAAF World U20 Championships on July 12, 2018 in Tampere, Finland. (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images for IAAF)

The Prime Minister of the country congratulates her. The Indian Army is proud of her achievements in the last 20 odd days. Sachin Tendulkar is sending out warm wishes for her. Social media platforms are awash with her videos of scorching the track.

And you'd think the 19-year-old Hima Das, who captured the nation's imagination with a remarkable run for the gold in the 400m at the World U20 Championships last year, is setting new standards of excellence in running this year too. The diminutive girl from Assam has won 5 gold medals in less than a month in various track and field events in Europe.

Though these achievements are good, they have to be tempered by the fact that none of them is a top event. Two of the events are classified 'F', the last in the recognition scale of IAAF. The remaining three were 'E' class events. This would convey the quality of the races.

And as far as the contestants are concerned, well, they are certainly sincere triers. But none of the 20 athletes that Hima Das has competed against since July 2 has a higher personal best than hers. Also, most of them are learned to be indoor 60m and 100m hurdles specialists. Not at all strong in the races that Hima ran (200m and 400m).

One of the contestants, it is said, had got back to sprinting only recently after choosing to concentrate on shotput and javelin. Also, in one of the races, the field was depleted with just four runners including Hima in the fray.

A track and field veteran says that these races are at best Sunday leagues. "Let us also be clear that no top-flight athlete will attempt five races in say 3 weeks if the competition were heavy," he adds.

Most pertinently, Saturday's 400m final that Hima won so convincingly was, as a matter of fact, an all-Indian final. This would convey the level of the competition, he says. The run was her season-best time of 52.09 seconds which is still short of her personal best of 50.79 seconds, which she recorded at the Asian Games in 2018.

Importantly, she failed to qualify for the World Athletics Championships as the 400-metre qualification mark for the world event has been kept as 51.80 seconds.

Another journalist, who covers athletics, is aghast that social media celebrities are sharing Hima Das' last year's gold medal run at the World U20 Championships as from her race on Saturday. "Can't they even notice her bib, the U20 WR mention at the edge of the screen?" he asks.

Hima Das is indeed a talented runner and has the potential to win many laurels for India. "But what is happening is a few successes at middling events are being played up. This is not the right way to encourage excellence," says the journalist. “It is also wrong on her part to not clarify that the clip that is being circulated is not from her race last Saturday.”

In this age and time, social media, with its lack of journalistic rigour, tends to distort facts. But celebrities and big names on the platforms should stay wary.

As far as Hima Das goes, we hope she continues her undoubted good form in events of higher caliber too.