Hima Das starts favourite to win gold in World U-20 C'ships
Tampere (Finland): Fast rising Indian sprinter Hima Das will start as favourite to win the women's 400m race gold in the IAAF World Under-20 Athletics Championships which begin here tomorrow.
It is a rare occasion that an Indian sprinter lines up in a global championship as the one to beat, with the the 18-year-old Das being the U-20 season leader in this quartermile event.
If the Assam girl, who runs in the the heats tomorrow, happens to win the gold, she will become the first Indian athlete to do so in a track event in an U-20 World Championships.
Star Indian javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra had won a gold in the last edition of this championship in Poland in 2016 with a world junior record effort which still stands to his name.
Das clocked an Indian U-20 record of 51.32 seconds to finish sixth in the Commonwealth Games 400m final in Gold Coast in April. Since then, she has gone onto improving her timings. She lowered the Indian U-20 record in 400m to 51.13 seconds while winning gold in the recent National Inter State Championships in Guwahati.
Asked if she can lower the national record of 51.05 which stands in the name of Manjit Kaur of Punjab since 2004, Das had said, "I have not thought about it, we will see."
Das, who has been named in the Indian contingent for the upcoming Asian Games, has joined the team in Finland from Czech Republic where she has been training after the Guwahati event.
A 15-member 400m team (7 women and 8 men) has been sent by the Athletics Federation of India at the Praha Jablonec Sports Complex near Prague as part of preparations for the Asian Games.
It will not, however, be easy for Das to grab the top spot in the championship as she will face a strong challenge from the United States duo of Taylor Manson and Symone Mason.
Taylor is rounding into form at the perfect time after taking victory at the US Junior Championships in a personal best time of 51.74 in her last outing on June 17. Runner-up that day was Symone, who ran 51.83 to secure her spot in Tampere. She has clocked 51.53 this year and will likely be in the medal shake-up.
Cuba's Roxana Gomez is the only other athlete who has gone below 52 seconds and the 19-year-old has considerable championship experience, having finished fifth at the IAAF World U-18 Championships in 2015 and sixth at the last edition of the IAAF World U-20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
She clocked a Cuban U-20 record of 51.46 last year to win the Pan American U-20 Championships, and her fastest this year is 51.95.
Das is leading a 31-member Indian athletics team at the six-day championship and she is not the only athlete who will be competing for medals.
Among men, junior national record holder long jumper M Sreeshankar would be hoping to finish on the podium. The Kerala long jumper's personal best of 7.99m set at the Federation Cup in March is the fourth best by a junior athlete this year. He won a bronze at the Asian Junior Championships in Japan last month with an effort of 7.47m.
Cuba's 18-year-old Maykel Vidal will start as favourite in men's long jump. Vidal is the world U-20 leader courtesy of his 8.12m jump in Havana last month.
Another Cuban Lester Lescay also jumped 8.07m in Havana while Japan's Yuki Hashioka leapt 8.05m to win his national championships in Osaka last year. In 2018, he has improved to 8.09m a fortnight ago.
Also looking to carry form from the Asian Junior Championships will be the Indian hammer throw pair of Ashish Jhakar and Damneet Singh who took first and second places at Gifu in Japan last month. Jhakhar's throw of 76.86m places him at sixth among junior athletes this season while Singh's season best of 74.08 places him at 11th.