Hima Das' superhuman sprint lands quick silver

Hima Das is chasing a superhero. With silver dreadlocks flying in the slipstream behind her, Salwa Eid Naser may as well be Storm from the X-Men.

Naser running an incredible pace in the Asian Games, like she always does, right at the edge of human ability. You couldn't tell it by her clenched jaws which suggest she is out for a jog. The 20-year-old is coolness personified. A queen on social media, too, with flashy clothes and big bold ink. A quotient the rest of us can't begin to hope to get near. "The perfect athlete," Hima would say.

No one can get close to Naser on this Sunday evening. No one, except Hima. The Indian has got swag too. Loads of it. There is swag in the way she crosses her arms then spreads them like wings and mouths for the TV camera's before the race begins. There is swag in the golden streak in her hair, the one she got last year as a 17-year-old so that she would always be noticed in a race.

Now she is definitely being noticed. Forget the rest of the field in the women's 400m final. All eyes at the Gelora Bung Karno stadium are on lanes three and five. They were all on Naser early on. Now past the final curve of the 400m women's final, they are drifting to Hima, who is closing in on the Bahraini.

With every stride, Hima eats up more of the track. She gets an ever closer look at Naser's magnificent hip length tattoo. Simultaneously, every brain at the stadium is doing mental calculations on behalf of the Indian. Does she have enough time, enough length of track with which to catch the leader?

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She doesn't. Hima finishes second. It doesn't matter that she has recorded the best ever timing by an Indian runner, in 50.79 seconds. It doesn't matter that the rest of the field was playing catch-up - third place Elena Mikhina finished two whole seconds behind. The fact is that Naser is the best in Asia. She has run in 50.09 seconds and claims a new Games record.

It's a yawning gap. Or is it?

There was a gap on Saturday, too. When the two runners had inexplicably been placed in the same semifinal heat. Naser had coasted the last 50m almost in disdain to clock 50.86 seconds. On Sunday, there would be no let up. It's a good thing too, for Naser wouldn't have won gold if she had.

Hima fell just short. Her timing in either the semis or the finals would have been enough to crown her the Asian champion in any other edition of the Games. In fact, it's the second fastest woman's timing ever recorded at the Games. It's perhaps just bad luck that Hima's race coincided with that of one of the best runners in the world today.

Still, there's plenty to be taken from this silver medal. It proves one thing for certain. Hima is nowhere near plateauing. With the exception of the World Junior championships in August, she has run every race faster than her previous record. If you thought her race at the Commonwealth Games was remarkable - she finished fifth clocking a then personal best 51.32s in a world class field - she would go on to improve that just three months later with 51.13s at the Inter State Athletics Championships. Where athletes spend years shaving the thinnest of margins from their best efforts, Hima has been taking a machete to hers.

What is particularly staggering is the fact that Hima isn't even close to tapping her potential.

"Those races she was winning and doing well in was because of her basic speed. It was just raw speed. There was no technique or anything. Now there is technique coming into her races too," says coach Basant Singh.

The change is as basic as where her feet point. "Even at the commonwealth Games, her feet point outwards when she runs. She was wasting her energy. Now they point straight along the track. It immediately improves her timing," says Basant.

There are other improvements, less subtle to spot if you aren't observing her train. They come simply in the work she is doing.

"When Hima first started training with the 400m runners in November last year, we were worried how much load we could put on her when she was training. Very simply we didn't know how much her body could take," he says.

"She won all her early races with barely no strength training. We have now started increasing her workload. This improvement she is showing is coming simply because she is now training heavy for the last couple of months. I thought she could go around the 50.5 second mark but it's still incredible what she has done. If she has two years of steady training like this, you watch out for her."

Hima isn't too worried about missing out on the gold medal. She has made it clear that the Asian Games are for timings, not medals.

"I've only just started two-three years ago, as before that I played football," she says.

The hunt for medals is incidental. The real race is for timings. And while Naser might be the best in Asia, Hima Das isn't slowing down anytime soon.