Hima Das is the new sporting sensation of the country and at such a young age she has achieved such feats that many can only dream of even at twice her age. It is her dedication and single-minded focus that has helped her create the 400m record.

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The 400m record

After she created history by winning a gold medal at the women’s 400m finals in the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Under-20 Athletics Championships in Finland, the 18-year-old girl from Assam’s Nagaon district became an overnight star and a star was born in the land of Red Rivers and the Blue Mountains.

Ponkhee Bora, a Guwahati-based sports enthusiast feels that Hima Das has opened a new window in the world of sports Assam where athletics is one of the most neglected sporting forms.

“Prior to Hima Das, it was Bhogeswar Baruah who had won a Gold medal at an international event when clinched gold at the 800-metres race at the 1966 Asian Games. And it took us 52 years more for another gold in an athletic competition,” Bora said, adding, “Hima’s performance has opened a new window in the world of sports in Assam and I am sure this is going to inspire many.”

However, he was quick to add,

“When a droplet of water falls on a desert, the inhabitants nearby start dreaming of incessant rain even though that is not the case. I meant, since we have a dearth of athletes representing Assam at an international level and winning medals at the same time, Hima’s feat will also put her under tremendous pressure as people will expect gold from her whenever she takes on the track.”

And the pressure showed when she made a false start at the semi-finals of the 200-meter race at the Asian Games 2018, Jakarta that eventually disqualified her.

The pressure cooker situation

The pressure cooker situation was evident and the young sprinter herself admitted to being under tremendous pressure right before the start of the race.

After the race, Hima took to her Facebook account and wrote clearly about the pressure she was in; mainly due to the comments passed by two particular individuals. Even though she did not name the duo, however, the pain and angst were clearly evident from the post. She was utterly dejected.

At this juncture one question arises- is it bad to expect from our sporting heroes or is it justified on the part of a player to blame individual/individuals for one’s not so good performance at an event?

“Dealing with pressure is also an art and the sportspersons must be taught about it while they are at the nascent stage of their career,” says Guwahati-based sports psychologist Gayitri Sarma.

“Too much elation at times of success and too much depression at times of failure make a person only weak. To remain grounded is very much necessary for a sportsperson and if we see the successful list of players from various sports, we will find the stalwarts to be grounded and someone who has/had controlled emotions,” she further adds on.

Speaking on Hima’s Asian Games performance, she said,

“Hima did not play badly. In fact, she won two medals- one individual and one team. Yes, it was expected of her that she will win a medal in the 200m race, however, she could not control her emotions and it played the spoilsport. Let us leave her alone.”

Are we expecting too much?

It is worthy to be mentioned here that pressure on Hima began to build up gradually soon after her gold medal-winning feat in Finland. If someone advised her to eat beef for better strength, the government, on the other hand, offered her a state government job. And then there are these organisations that announced building her statue in her village. These are nothing but detrimental forces that one must always try to avoid.

“Hima Das is an exceptionally talented athlete and a very young girl. She should not overburdened  with expectation and be rather left alone at this stage. Overkill of attention has ruined many promising careers and she is certainly better off without these unnecessary distractions,” shares Nabarun Guha, a Guwahati-based freelance journalist on his Facebook wall.

When contacted, he said,

“Expectations have killed a number of promising stars. Coming from a humble background, these young sportspersons can seldom handle the media glare or the people’s expectations. We must just let them be what they are and allow them to do in which they are the best.”

If we dig the pages of history, we will come across many such persons who showed promise at the initial days of their sporting careers, but faded away into oblivion as they could not keep up with the expectations of their countrymen.

Time to hand hold our Athletes

A former national-level swimmer on condition of anonymity said,

“When I began swimming, I was compared with the best in the business. And as time passed by, I began expecting more and more from me and when I could not fulfil my own expectations, I used to go mad and this began affecting my performance. And today I am far from being that swimmer which I was once.”

Hima Das is a rare talent and if we closely monitor her performance, we will realise that she is always improving. At the Asiad qualifiers for the 400m, she bettered her Finland’s gold medal-winning performance and in the finals, she surpassed her own record again by clocking 50.79 sec- which again incidentally is the national best. Winning silver at the Asian games, by no means is a small thing.

She is only 18 and she has an array of quests to conquer. It is the time that the people of Assam in particular and the country, in general, wake up and stop burdening the young talent with extra pressure.

Moreover, it is time for the sports ministry to see and chalk out exercises and courses which can help the sportspersons to cope up with the pressure that they face while carrying the burden of expectations of millions.

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