Indian teenage sprinter Hima Das eyes world U-20 400m title in Finland

India’s teenaged runner Hima Das will bid to emulate male javelin star Neeraj Chopra when the world’s top-ranked women’s 400m runner in the category competes at the World U-20 athletics championships that starts in Tampere, Finland, on Tuesday.

Chopra rose to international attention after he broke the U-20 world record in the previous edition of the meet held in Poland. Assamese runner Hima, who has made rapid strides in 400m, is part of India’s 31-member squad selected for Finland.

Hima is in excellent form, having upstaged seasoned domestic rivals to win the event at last month’s Inter-State Athletics Championships in Guwahati, clocking 51.13 secs to qualify for the Jakarta Asian Games.

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After her win, national coach Basant Singh said she could have run faster. “It would have been a sub-51 secs race had she run the first 300m a bit faster,” he said. “Since she is improving with every race, we expect a good performance in the world juniors.”

The U-20 world record is 50.50 secs, set by Ashley Spencer of US in Barcelona six years ago. The preliminary rounds will be held on Tuesday with the semi-finals slated for Wednesday and the final the next day.

Neeraj Chopra had set a world junior record of 86.48m in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz. If Hima maintains her form in Finland, she will be first Indian woman to win a world U-20 title.

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Hima’s Guwahati performance was better than her under-20 national record of 51.32 secs, clocked while coming sixth in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April. In 2016, Jamaica’s Tiffany James won the event at 51.32 secs.

Hima will face a strong challenge from talented US runners Taylor Manson and Symone Mason. Taylor won the US junior title at 51.74 secs and Symore was second in 51.83 secs. Cuba’s Roxana Gomez too has dipped under 52 secs. She set the Cuban junior record of 51.46 secs last year.

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