The past week saw two World Championships coming to an end – the FIFA World Cup and the IAAF U-20 World Championships. Both brought me immense joy and excitement. Needless to say as a former Indian athlete I was overjoyed to see Hima Das clinching India's first track gold in a World Championship.
The teenager from Assam has continued to surprise us with her splendid performances on the big stage.
Hima's gold in 400m is also a pointer to India's steady growth at the U-20 Worlds. Discus throwers Seema Punia (2002) and Navjeet Kaur Dhillon (2014) had won bronze medals, while Neeraj Chopra became the first Indian to win a gold medal at the world level when he reigned supreme in javelin throw in the 2016 edition.
Hima turned to athletics only at the age of 11 and credit should be given to her coach Nipon Das who started training her in early 2017. It has been a meteoric rise to say the least.
Hima fared impressively in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games earlier this year with a sixth-place finish. But the gold at the junior Worlds has made the world sit up and take note of her talent.
Make no mistake, the pressure is immense in a World Championship whether it be at the junior or senior level. After watching the race I got the impression that Hima was super cool and her sprint left her rivals stunned. Hima is an entertainer and has a carefree attitude. I hope she continues in the same vein.
We have got a gem and we need to nurture her. Agreed, it it not easy to translate the success from junior stage to the senior level where you are pitted against the seasoned runners.
Hima needs to gain more exposure and as a world junior champion she will get entries for Diamond League competitions. The next big assignment for Hima is next month's Asian Games and she is a sure bet to bring home the 400m gold medal.
Her presence gives India a big boost in both the women's 4x400m relay and the mixed 4x400m relay events too.
We need to chart out Hima's training programmes for 2019 well in advance. She should be provided scientific support and the most important thing is Hima should remain injury free.
I believe the landscape of Assam and the fact she used to play football has helped her body muscles cope up with the rigorous demands of athletics.
The Tokyo Olympics is two years away and I feel Hima can pose a serious challenge there. Age is on her side and she should be a real medal prospect in the 2024 Olympics.
Hima and Neeraj's recent success on the big stage proves the future of Indian athletics is bright.
Les Bleus on top
France regaining the FIFA World Cup after a gap of 20 years was the biggest sports news last week. The Les Bleus' triumph was a gentle reminder that football is a team sport and individual brilliance rarely takes a team all the way. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar tried their best, but it was not enough to take their teams to even to the semifinals. Argentina and Portugal crashed out in the pre-quarterfinals while Brazil went down to Belgium in the quarterfinals.
France fielded a team, which had a nice blend of youth and experience and they delivered under pressure. Croatia had a fairy tale run to the final before running into France.It was a remarkable achievement by the small Balkan nation to make it to the title clash for the first time. The Croats had an array of experienced players and they did their country proud.
The World Cup was a celebration of the sport and it was great to see the presidents of France and Croatia wildly cheering their teams. Even the normally serious Russian supremo Vladimir Putin looked rather relaxed. Sport has that special ability to bring people and the world together. I really hope India becomes a sporting superpower and Hima's gold is a small but significant step towards it.
(The author is a former World Championship bronze medal winner in long jump)