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Bapi Hansda - Boy from station sweeper family becomes world number 1

Till recently, Bapi Hansda could be seen in Odisha's Jajpur station. Now the state's pride, the young hurdler became the U18 world number one this year.

Bapi Hansda - Boy from station sweeper family becomes world number 1

Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik hands over a cash prize to Bapi Hansda


Dipankar Lahiri

Updated: 27 Jun 2023 5:21 PM GMT

One morning at the New Delhi airport earlier this month, unsuspecting bystanders were jolted awake by the sound of drums and trumpets sounding like the apocalypse had taken a morning flight. It was in fact the junior Indian athletics team returning from the Asian Athletics Championships in Uzbekistan, returning from their best ever show at the event - 24 medals - to a thunderous reception.

In the impromptu celebrations that followed, one of the youngsters - 17-year-old Bapi Hansda - seemed to be the centre of attention. Though the hurdler was not among those to be returning with gold medals, his silver was even more significant.

“It was not just my first international medal, this was also my first international trip. I was nervous when going to Uzbekistan, but having the team and the coach around me helped,” the latest athletics sensation from India told The Bridge.

Bapi Hansda become world number 1 in the U18 category in 400m hurdles earlier this year.

His mark of 51.38m in Uzbekistan to win silver earned India a first ever medal at this event in this competition, but it would have been good enough to win gold at any previous edition. In the U18 age category, it would have been the all-time world record two years ago.

“Considering this was only his 5th attempt in the 400m hurdles, it is a fantastic achievement. This kid has a lot of potential. He is an efficient runner, but he was an ugly hurdler in the beginning. He worked a lot on his hurdle technique to make it efficient, but there’s more technical work to be done on him,” Reliance Foundation coach Martin Owens told The Bridge.

From Jajpur station to top of world

It was Bapi Hansda who was offered the most sweets at the New Delhi airport that day, but the youngster remembers a day not too long ago when an indifferent crowd of humanity passed him by at the Jajpur Road railway station in Odisha without offering him so much as a look in his direction.

“There has been a lot of struggle and hardship. I used to stay with my eldest brother Goona Hansda, who was a sweeper at the station. There was not much food or even shoes in the earliest days, but I made do with what I had,” Bapi said.

The Rs 25 lakh prize money the Odisha government awarded Bapi after his recent exploits has brought a windfall to the Hansda family, but there has been a path of struggle before this.

“My father passed away when I was 4. It was too long ago to remember, but I think he did small agricultural work. After his death, my mother continued to work at a tower company to support us. My eldest brother Goona moved to Jajpur to work as a sweeper, and the rest of us followed him,” said the family’s most recent hero.

Bapi Hansda's family in Balasore

Now, following Bapi’s induction into the high-performance programme jointly run by the Odisha government and the Reliance Foundation, the entire family has moved back to their village in Balasore, where they continue working in the fields.

“I never knew I would be playing internationally, let alone be world number one. I started taking an interest in running and practising because I wanted to do well in school events. I didn’t know anything about Athletics till a few years ago, now my speed, endurance, technique are all improving steadily,” Bapi said.

There’s a long way still to go for young Bapi Hansda, but looking at the ease with which the youngster has tackled life’s biggest obstacles, no hurdle on the track can stop him.

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