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No big win, yet why Hima Das went viral in just 3 weeks?

No big win, yet why Hima Das went viral in just 3 weeks?

Md Imtiaz

Published: 27 July 2019 10:25 AM GMT
Over a hundred news articles and a zillion social media posts later, Hima Das stands as the most celebrated athlete in India today, particularly after the way her popularity grew exponentially in the past three weeks. A haul of five gold medals in a matter of 19 days is a no mean feat, and nothing of this sort of a sporting achievement has surfaced lately that the country could be proud of. Before proceeding further, let's take a look at Hima's performances that broke the internet. July 2, Poznan: 200m gold (23.65 seconds) July 7, Kunto: 200m gold (23.97 seconds) July 13, Kladno: 200m gold (23.43 seconds) July 17, Tabor: 200m gold (23.25 seconds) July 20, Nové Město nad Metují: 400m gold (52.09 seconds) https://twitter.com/TheBridge_IN/status/1152633042374053888?s=19 Though Hima Das' performance did not come in a big-ticket global event, why her success entailed such a hype? Hima clinched her first gold on July 2 in Poznan. Though several media outlets published the news, it wasn't a hype. India's fans were engaged with the cricket team's impeccable run to the semi-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup. Hima's second gold came on July 7, a day after India's triumph against Sri Lanka, which further led to a stronger build-up for the semi-final. Indian fans were nursing a dream of storming into the finals of the cricket world cup once again. A nation, obsessed with cricket, couldn't have asked for a better sporting achievement than winning the World Cup. Besides, fans have had no other major sporting achievements to celebrate the entire year. All the energy and enthusiasm later transpired into a big blow when Virat Kohli's men suffered a semi-final exit from the World Cup after a two-day cathartic drama came to a close at the Old Trafford stadium in England on July 10. Apart from India's historic test series win in Australia, fanatics, who are often scrutinised for not lending their support in other sports, were waiting to be ticked by some credible achievements. In came Hima Das, at a moment when Indian fans were reeling with a world cup exit and a dismal show of the Indian football team in the Intercontinental Cup opener. On July 13, the news of Hima's third gold in eleven days' interval came as a sensation for its stature of being a big respite for the win-starved Indian audience. Nobody delved deep into the achievement and the importance of the tournament. India got its new hero standing tall with two elements that mattered the most -- 'gold' and an interval of 'just nine days'. For the uninitiated (here, the majority), who doesn't know the qualification standards of World Championships and the Olympics and not very keen of knowing because of India's lacklustre history, Hima's performance was mistaken as something as big as World Championships.
The competitions Hima participated in were in the lower rungs on the World Championship ranking points system, introduced earlier this year by International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). While performing well in an Olympics or World Championships earn more points, she performed in 'E' and 'F' category events, the last two in the ranking points system. Hima's IAAF ranking score in 400m, without taking into account the recent events since IAAF is yet to include them in its rankings, is 1,121. Bahrain's Salwa Eid Naser has the world's highest-ranking score in 400m with 1,412 points. Not only did the timing work wonderfully for Hima's popularity, her continued gold hunt further intensified the hysteria among the masses that was more keen on flaunting Hima's achievements of 'five golds in 18 days' and conjecturing that she would bring gold at the 2020 Olympics, without even knowing whether she had qualified for the Games. Congratulatory messages also poured in all over social media for Dutee Chand, who won the gold medal at the World University Games earlier this month at the 100m track event. The video of her race was tweeted and shared by celebrities. However, in Hima's case, a majority of people started sharing her old video of winning the U20 World Championships last year, confusing it with her fifth race in Nové Město nad Metují. From top-level politicians to revered cricketers, Bollywood icons, Hima's name became a household name, many of whom took to social media and shared the old video. Though later they were apprised with the information, they never took it down; a majority of them did not even accept their mistake (to be looked after) because, after all, "we are proud of Hima". For the Dhing Express, her popularity was further fuelled after the news broke that she had contributed half of her monthly salary for the flood-affected state of Assam. Though this move was a heart-warming and generous gesture, it doubled up the frenzy of the five-gold affair.
Also, brands have now started celebrating the success of sports achievers other than cricketers. Hima now endorses a few brands like Adidas, SBI and Edelweiss Financial Services already. The Economic Times reported that in light of her recent wins, her brand fees have doubled in the last three weeks from Rs 30-35 lakh a year per brand, to roughly around Rs 60 lakh annually. Lastly, many retorted even to publish fake updates on social media of Hima winning a sixth medal in 20 days, which came out as manifestations of desperate Indian fans who have been waiting to boast about their sporting achievements. Taking nothing away from Hima's incredible feat of five medals, she still has a long way to go to bring glory in the big-ticket events of the world. In track and field events, where fine margins make big ripples, she will encounter tough tests ahead. In 200 metre event, Hima still has to clock 22.80 seconds if she wants to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. She has to break the current national record of 22.82 seconds and her personal best timing of 23.10 seconds. To qualify for the 400m at the Olympics, she will need a time of 51.35 seconds, which she is capable of achieving. We still need the backing for Hima so that she is able to make the cut and earn big glory for India, till then, let's not bask into the pride of winning these lower-ranked tournaments as the world's biggest stage is ruthless when it comes to competition.
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