Double gold-winner Punjabi University's Harmilan was born to run
Amandeep Bains had a theory. And as soon as he got the opportunity, he applied it... on his daughter. “I believe that children should be encouraged to take up what the parents are good at, to nurture them in their mould,” he said. It's no surprise, then, that Harmilan Singh Bains, has grown to become an accomplished runner.
After all, father Amandeep was a 1500m runner, with medals at the South Asian Games and several national meets; and mother, Madhuri Singh, is an Asian Games silver medallist in the 800m, from the Busan games in 2002. “We never wanted to make her an engineer or a doctor. We don't have these skills. We just wanted her to be a runner,” father Amandeep explained, shortly after Harmilan completed the 1500m-800m double in the Khelo India University Games 2020 here on Saturday.
“I don’t know anything about that theory," Harmilan laughed. “Truthfully, I don't remember anything about my mother's Asian Games medal either. My first memory of her is from a national meet, or perhaps the Olympic trials. I was in the stands and she had waved out to me,” she added.
With genes and pedigree like that, Harmilan was probably anyway born to be a champion runner. Still, Amandeep ensured that she got everything that she needed to follow their dream, as well as the best advice possible. “Hoshiarpur is actually a great place to become a middle-distance runner. It has some sandy areas, and the hills are also close by,” he pointed out. “It's literally the perfect mix for strength and endurance.”
Harmilan participated in several small level races as a kid, mostly against boys as part of halftime entertainment at local football games. The first time she took part in a race she finished second, and distraught, she decided this sport wasn’t for her. “But my mother consoled me and offered me a different way out,” Harmilan revealed. “She said that if I quit now, I’d have quit after losing. Which is terrible. Instead, she asked me if I’d like to train, and then beat the boy who beat me.”
Harmilan did precisely that, and that winning feeling stuck. It wasn’t till 2015 when she joined SAI, Dharamshala, though that running became a serious pursuit, with an academic diligence applied to her training routine. She battled a career-threatening knee injury almost immediately, before recovering in what she said was ‘an absolute miracle’.
It has only been a year since she has shifted to the NIS, Patiala to train under Suresh Kumar Saini, and the results have improved exponentially. At the Inter-University meet earlier this year, Harmilan clocked 4:24.86 in the 1500m to better PU Chitra’s long-standing mark by one-hundredth of a second.
“I was battling a fever that day and I knew that despite breaking the record, because of the small margin, a lot of people would not be convinced,” she said. And so, in Bhubaneswar she bettered it. By a whopping eight seconds! And then, she won the gold in the 800m, doing a double coveted by middle distance runners across the world.
It is inevitable then to wonder if dinner arguments in the Bains household were about which event the youngest runner prefers. Harmilan – as predicted by Amandeep himself – was clear. She preferred her father’s event to her mother’s. “I don’t have the kind of speed for the 800m right now,” she conceded. “For some reason, I feel way more comfortable in the 1500m and can record 68-second laps much easier in that event. But, of course, that doesn’t mean I will stop pursuing the 800m.”
Two golds, after all, feel better than one.