World Under-20 champion Hima Das’s inability to hit her stride in her pet event, the 400 metres, has been put down to the 45-day break the 19-year-old took to appear for Class XII examinations in February-March this year.
During the time away from the national camp, which is overseen by Russian-born coach Galina Burkharina, Hima did not train and this pegged her back to a level from which she is struggling to bounce back in time to meet qualification standards for the World Championships in Doha, the Athletics Federation of India’s deputy chief coach Radhakrishnan Nair said on Friday.
Hima’s season best in the 400 metres is 52.09 seconds, achieved at a competition at Nove Mesto nad Metuji in Czech Republic but the World Championship qualifying standard is set at 51.80 seconds.
According to another top Athletics Federation of India official, Hima’s decision to take a break was ill-timed because it broke her training cycle but since the athlete insisted on appearing for the examinations, there was no option but to give in to her demand.
On her return, Hima pulled out of the heats of the 400 metres at the Asian Championships because of a lower back pain, which was diagnosed as spondylitis of the lumbar vertebrae. She, however, was part of the Indian women’s 4×400 metre relay squad which participated in the World Relays at Yokohama in May.
Deputy chief coach Nair said the “back pain was not a big issue” for the young athlete and reasoned that the prolonged break from training had affected her chances to qualifying in the individual 400 metres for the World Championships.
“She was away for 45 days and she broke her training and did not do anything. Back pain was not a big issue. She could not train during this period because of her exams. This was in February and March and that has set her back. Otherwise she could have been in the same stage what she was last year,” Nair said.
In July last year Hima became the toast of the nation when she won the gold at the World Junior Championships in Tampere, Finland. Her timing of 51.46 seconds achieved with a breathtaking run in the home stretch was astounding given the fact that she participated in her first competitive race just 18 months prior.
A month later she broke the national record on way to winning a silver (50.79s) at the Asian Games.
Nair said that Hima and the rest of the 400 metre squad — 15 in all — are in the Czech Republic and will get ‘two or three’ more competitions before to make the cut for the World Championships, the deadline for which is September 6.
The campers are based in Jablonec and are scheduled participate in three competitions – a 300 metres event on August 17, the Brno Grand Prix on August 28 and a Grand Prix in Berlin on September 1 in which only three male athletes will participate.
Also read | All the races sprinter Hima Das has won in July
“She (Hima) will run two or three competitions more. She has time till September 6. We don’t know exactly what level the competitions will be, but let us see. Hima still has time to qualify for the individual 400 metres. Yet, if she can’t she will be part of the relay team. The Indian men, women and mixed 4×400 metre relay teams as on date have qualified for the World Championships,” Nair added.
Between July 2 to July 20, Hima had participated in five races and won as many gold medals — four in the 200m and one in 400m. Though she ran in these 200 metre races to build speed, the level of competition was nothing to write home about.
This is not the first time an athletics coach has raised concern about Hima’s form and her decision to take a break to appear for her board examinations in a year in which the World Championships are to be held.
In March, Bukharina, the coach in-charge of the 400 metres squad had conceded that Hima had lost precious time and would find it difficult to make up lost time.
“I know she jumped too high in terms of timings according to her age and there were expectations from her. To stay at this height, she needs one or two years of practice again and will have to start from scratch. After all those races and the packed schedule, she decided to sit for her exams. Even though such things are not good in the middle of the season, it is still a long route for the Olympics. To keep your focus, one should have every thing in life settled. We allowed her a break of six weeks but believe me, six weeks is too much of time in an athlete’s career,” Bukharina had told The Indian Express.
Hima’s return wasn’t a smooth affair. She participated in the third leg of the Indian Grand Prix at Sangrur but finished fourth with a timing of 55.19 seconds, way off her personal best and national record of 50.79. At the Federation Cup, in mid-March, the selection trial for the Asian championships, Hima won gold with a timing of 52.88 seconds but fell on the track and clutched her back in pain at the end of the race.