While the whole nation had been hailing the rapid rise of Indian sprinter Hima Das to instant track-and-field stardom in 2018, the success came as no surprise to one man.
Nipon Das, the then coach of Hima Das, was the man responsible for spotting the talent in the ‘Dhing Express’ and he immediately recognised that she needed to move out from her village in Assam.
Das convinced Hima to shift her base to the state’s capital city of Guwahati so that she could train with the best possible infrastructure.
“In Dhing, there was no proper sporting infrastructure and during monsoons, the grounds would submerge in water. She needed to follow a strict diet as well. Hence, she had to come out,” Nipon Das told the Free Press Journal in an interview.
“She had both perseverance and enthusiasm but required proper training and guidance.”
Soon after training under Nipon Das at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium in Guwahati, the Indian sprint queen led the Assam team, a state not known for its athletics prowess, to multiple medals at national meets.
“Discipline, dedication and diligence have guided Hima throughout her journey,”- Nipon Das
Hima Das was fast-tracked into the national camp and earned a place in the 2018 Commonwealth Games contingent but her moment of reckoning would come at the IAAF U20 World Championships in Finland later that year.
Hima won gold in the 400m, clocking 51.46 seconds, to become the first Indian track athlete to clinch gold at any world athletics meet, junior or senior.
Only after returning from that event would she encounter Galina Bukharina, who is now Hima Das’ coach and also of the Indian athletics team.
Galina Bukharina: A proven record-maker
As an athlete, Galina Bukharina won the 4x400m relay bronze representing the Soviet Union at the Mexico 1968 Olympics, but she is better known across the world for her incredible track record as coach.
Galina had extensively coached in the USA for two decades, leading the University of Texas to much success.
Bukharina was also the coach of the then Soviet Union’s 4x400m women’s relay team which won gold at the Seoul 1988 Olympics, setting a new world and Olympic record of 3:15:17, a timing that has not been erased yet.
It was a major boost for Indian athletics when Galina agreed to take on the role in mid-2017 and after Hima Das won the world junior championship, the duo seemed to be match for each other.
However, their first meeting did not quite go well.
Hima Das arrived late to a practice session and was given a stern talking-to by Galina Bukharina.
“She came to my room and apologised. After that, she did not miss a single practice and was very obedient,” Galina Bukharina recalled in an interview with The Indian Express.
The Hima-Galina teamwork has been productive so far.
“She’s tough. But Hima didn’t understand her abilities completely. After the first physical test I set for her, I saw that she had very good qualities,” the 75-year-old Bukharina said.
Instant success with Bukharina
Galina’s first major competition with Hima Das was the 2018 Asian Games and it turned out to be a resounding success as the Indian sprinter won the 400m individual silver.
Hima Das also added two golds, in the women’s and mixed 4x400m relays and the partnership was on track, much to the delight of the fans and officials.
With a breakthrough season behind her, Hima Das was expected to hit the ground running in 2019 and undertake the next step in her journey – qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, originally slated to be held in 2020.
However, things didn't quite go to plan as the Indian sprinter delayed the start of the season to study and appear for the class XII board examinations.
The six-week break, Galina Bukharina believed, was too long in retrospect for Hima Das, who pulled up with a back injury at the Asian Athletics Championships in April last year.
“I know Hima jumped too high in terms of timings according to her age and there were expectations from her. To stay at this height, Hima needs one or two years of practice again and will have to start from scratch,” Galina had said at that time.
“Hima Das is a winner inside and it doesn’t matter what she is doing, she wants to be the best at it. In each exercise that she does, she puts maximum effort” – Galina Bukharina
Galina Bukharina began the slow process of rehabilitation with her most talented ward and it took four months for Hima Das to be nursed back to prime fitness.
And the Indian sprinter returned with a bang in July 2019, where she enjoyed a run of five consecutive gold medals at various meets in Europe.
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the Tokyo Olympics to be shifted to 2021, it gave an unexpected lifeline to Team Hima-Galina.
The path to the Summer Games will have twists and turns for sure but both Hima and Galina love challenges.
The two clearly share a close bond and will be aiming to forge another chapter together when the Games get underway next year.