She has been improving with every race and now, as the curtains go up for the IAAF under-20 World athletics championships on Tuesday, Hima Das starts favourite for the women’s 400m gold in Tampere, Finland.

With her 51.13s, the 18-year-old inter-State National champion from Assam has the fastest time among the entries. She is also the world’s second-fastest junior quartermiler this year and with season-leader American Sydney McLaughlin (personal best 50.07s) skipping the championships, the focus will be on Hima.

Two years ago, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra gave India its first-ever gold at an IAAF Worlds, when he took the under-20 title in Poland with a World junior record. And Hima, who finished sixth in the recent Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, will have a chance to create history.

If she wins, it will be the country’s first-ever IAAF Worlds gold in a track event.

And despite the absence of Sydney, Americans Symone Mason (PB 51.53) and Taylor Manson (PB 51.74) should give the Indian a tough challenge.

Sreeshankar confident

A medal could also come from long jumper M. Sreeshankar, who produced a personal best 7.99m just before the Commonwealth Games which made him the fourth best jumper in the under-20 world list.

Sreeshankar, who had an appendicitis surgery a couple of months ago, appears to be close to his best now and is quite confident, too. The Kerala athlete, who will be in action on the opening day in the qualification round, will be looking to get past the 8m mark.

Hammer throwers Ashish Jakhar and Damneet Singh, who won the gold and silver at the recent junior Asians in Japan, are also capable of pulling off a surprise.

However, it must be mentioned here that the road to the under-20 Worlds was a tough one for the Indians. There was a last-minute rush for visas and the team landed in Tampere only last night.

India has fielded a 31-member team, which includes junior Asian champions K. Kamalraj (TN, triple jump) and Jisna Mathew (Kerala, 400m), in the six-day championships.

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