India’s sprint sensations Hima Das and Dutee Chand are set to join forces and anchor the women’s 4x100m relay team as it gears up to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

After her brilliant performance in 2018 that saw her win the 400m silver at the Jakarta Asian Games, a persistent back injury has hampered Hima Das from running the 400m in major events, though last season she won a handful of medals in low-key races in Europe.

India’s chief national coach Radhakrishnan Nair said Hima will now be preparing for the relay with Dutee and other members.

“There is no (back) issue when she runs the 100m. Thus her talent will be put to use in the shorter relay,” Nair said.

Hima, the 2018 junior world 400m champion with a personal best of 50.78 secs, is capable of running 100m below 11.50 secs, he said.

There are half a dozen Indian sprinters who clock around 11.50 secs, while Dutee’s personal best is 11.22 secs. “It is an advantage to achieve a top 16 global ranking by the end of June and become eligible to compete in the Olympics,” Nair said.

According to Dutee, the personal best of the top six in the national relay squad is between 11.50 secs and 11.60 secs.

“We have a young and new team. It’s good Hima is also there. Working as a team is what matters in a relay. All the sprinters are eager to perform and everyone is working hard towards the common goal of qualifying for the Olympics,” said Dutee from her training base in Bhubaneswar.

“We have been doing well in the relay for the past couple of years, but the current lot is super good,” she said. “All we have to do is combine as a unit to clock a good time. Something below 43 secs will be good,” said Dutee, the national record holder who won the 100m and 200m silver at Jakarta in 2018.

It has been two decades since India’s 4x100m team comprising Sarawati Dey, Rachita Mistry, Vinita Tripathi and V Jayalakshmi competed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, though there was no qualifying system then. The men’s team had also participated. Both teams made a first round exit.

“An impressive performance by us this time will be a huge boost for sprinting in the country,” feels Dutee.

Due to the pandemic, World Athletics had frozen Olympic qualification till November 30. The relay team hopes to showcase its potential in the April 3-4 Asian Relay Championships in Thailand, followed by the World Relay in Poland in the first week of May.

“The team has the ability to clock below 43 secs; a top eight position in Poland could fetch us an automatic berth for the Tokyo Olympics,” Nair said.

At the 2019 Asian Championships, the women’s 4X100 relay team comprising Archana Suseentran, Veeramani Revathi, Ranga Kunnath and Dutee missed out on a medal, finishing fourth after a poor baton exchange in the third leg. The Indian team clocked 43.81 secs. China won gold at 42.87 secs, followed by Kazakhstan (43.36) and Bahrain (43.61). At the 2019 Doha World Championships, Jamaica powered to gold in 41.44 secs, ahead of Great Britain (41.85) and United States (42.10).

A smooth baton change will be the key to success in the upcoming international meets, says Tarun Shah, former national sprint coach. While Dutee trains in Bhubaneswar, others in sprint relay team—

Archana, Himashree Roy, Sneha PJ, Daneswari, Diandra Valladares, Kaveri and Hima are based in Patiala.

“Coordination is important,” said Shah. Three to four weeks of group training should be enough to get a good rhythm. “Consistent performance builds confidence and gives an opportunity to handle things in different environments,” he said.

The women’s squad missed out on qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics after ending one spot outside the top 16 who are eligible.

Steady progress can help the sprint relay team to win a medal at the 2022 Asian Games, emulating their longer relay counterparts. “The female quarter-milers (4x400m relay) have set a trend of winning gold medals since the 2002 Busan Asian Games—till date, India has won five titles,” Dutee’s coach N Ramesh said from Hyderabad.

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