Fantastic four: The Indian female sprinters that made history in 2018


Fantastic four: The Indian female sprinters that made history in 2018

These girls know no boundaries, no barriers of time

By Binoo K John  December 7th, 2018

Hima Das, Dutee Chand, Anjum Moudgil, MR Poovamma, Vinesh Phogat—these new-gen stars have set their own rules and inspired hundreds of girls around the country to take up sports. Their stories are known: all of them were up against more than just the tape at the finishing line or the gong at the end of each round. But they took time and convention in their hands and gave them a bloody good shakedown.

Till two years ago, Hima Das was running in her village, Dhing, in Assam, playing football with guys who could keep up with her energy, not knowing that destiny was hovering around her. When she stood atop the podium at the International Association Of Athletics Federations’s under-20 world meet in Finland six months ago, and the Indian national anthem began playing, her eyes welled up. For millions of sports fans too, that was a moment they had long awaited: for an Indian to win a track event in the Worlds. That run, where a trailing Hima came round the final bend and took the home stretch, was against odds and logic. A star had risen from the hopelessness of a desolate village, showing us what it is to dream.

Anjum Moudgil has a master’s in sports psychology. But that is not what she does for a living. She shoots. She is the world’s second ranked shooter in the 50-metre, three-prone position event.

Like them, there are many others—this has been a great year for women’s sport, especially after the Jakarta Asian Games, which threw up so many medals for so many young girls who overcame the limitations of their gender, their history, the loneliness of their struggle to become champions.

Yet for all their achievements, in a conservative society like India, they have to be role models of female achievement. “My one wish was to grow my hair long,” Vinesh Phogat once said in an interview with The Indian Express[in wrestling, short hair is the norm]. The scars of success can be seen on Vinesh: her cabbage ears, scars that run along the side of her right knee. All the pain, the long hours. So they exist in two worlds, the testosterone world of fighting against time, yet yearn for the cute things of being a girl.

But what stays with us is their sheer audacity, their triumphant gasping finishes, backed by years of persistence and patience, and willing their aching muscles to hold out.

Four for gold: The relay quartet

MR Poovamma, Hima Das, Sarita Gayakwad and VK Vismaya are among Asia’s fastest runners in the quarter mile. The ruthlessly assembled quartet from Karnataka, Assam, Gujarat and Kerala respectively, won the Asian Games gold in the 1,600-metre relay at just short of a record, with a timing of 3 minutes and 28.72 seconds. Each of them is yet capable of improving their individual 400-metre timings.

The relay team is centred around and anchored by MR Poovamma, the most experienced runner, whom the other three look up to. She has been on the track for 16 years, and has won the junior Nationals event in 2002 and represented India at the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and the Olympics.

Hima is the fastest. “I don’t have any timing as my aim. I want to improve my timing every time I run,” says India’s champion 400-metre runner. After she ran the opening lap of the 1,600-metre relay at the Jakarta Asian Games, opening up a lead, which would give Indian women the gold, the world turned its attention to the might of this girl. She then won the silver in the 400 metres at 50.56 seconds. Hima carries India’s hope for a track medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, though there is some catching up to do to reach near the 49-second mark, which will clinch her the medal.

The foursome are in Patiala, preparing for the world championships mid-next year. The next target is Tokyo. If she makes it to the team it will be Poovamma’s third Olympics outing. All four are delighted with their new coach, 75-year-old Russian Galima Bukharina, an Olympic silver medallist. Any question about their timings and relay strategy and they all say, “coach will decide” or “coach will tell us”.

All they know is that when the baton passes from one outstretched hand to the other, their dreams and fates merge together, and that is the moment they live for.

On Hima: Knit turtleneck, Rs. 1,999 Marks & Spencer. Polyester trackpants, Rs. 3,999, jacket, Rs. 9,999, knit sneakers, Rs. 8,999; all adidas


On Sarita: Knit turtleneck, Rs. 1,999, Marks & Spencer. Polyester trackpants, Gayakwad’s own. Polyester-blend jacket, Rs. 4,499, FILA


On VK Vismaya: Knit top, Rs. 2,799, Tommy Hilfiger. Polyester jacket, Rs. 4,999, adidas


On MR Poovamma: Cotton top, polyester trackpants; both Poovamma’s own. Wool jumper, Rs. 4,999, Calvin Klein Jeans. Mesh sneakers, Rs. 8,995, Nike


Photographs: Tarun Vishwa
Styling: Rahul Vijay
Hair and Make-Up: Deepa Verma
Assisted by: Pujarini Ghosh (Styling)
Special Thanks To: Sharda Ugra

From left, on Sarita Gayakwad: Wool jumper, price on request, péro. Denim pants, Rs. 9,900, Ikai by Ragini Ahuja.
On Poovamma:Wool turtleneck, Rs. 8,500, Notebook. Cotton pants, Rs. 7,999, Two Point Two. Denim jacket, Rs. 14,500, Kanika Goyal Label. Mesh sneakers, Rs. 8,995, Nike.
On Das: Knit turtleneck, Rs. 1,999, Marks & Spencer. Denim top, Rs. 16,900, Ikai by Ragini Ahuja. Polyester trackpants, Rs. 3,999, knit sneakers, Rs. 8,999; both adidas
On VK Vismaya: Jersey jumper, Rs. 28,950, Shivan & Narresh. Polyester trackpants, Rs. 3,399, Reebok. Mesh and rubber sneakers, Rs. 6,999, PUMA