Heena, India’s rising 400m star, eyes U-18 Asian record

‘Trust the process and believe in yourself’ reads young sprinter Rejoana Mallick Heena’s WhatsApp bio. As far as progress is concerned, the 16-year-old girl from West Bengal’s Nadia district has put herself on the fast track.

Rejoana Mallick Heena (right) with coach Arjun Ajay

Heena made a sensational debut in the 400m at the National Open, clocking 53.22 seconds to create an under-16 national record. She has now bettered the Asian Under-18 record (52.98s), winning the gold in Tashkent last week, improving on the previous best set by Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser (53.02s) – the 2019 world champion.

Returning home on Tuesday, Heena said, “It was my first international meet and I enjoyed a lot with the team.” She has been training under coach Arjun Ajay in the altitude of Ooty since November 2019 and has made a lot of progress this season.

“Sir (coach) told me that I can break the national record and even the championship record is possible, so just focus and believe. My mindset was to do well. I was a bit nervous but then I ran my race leading from the start. It has given me a lot of confidence, but I am not looking too far ahead. I don’t want to be overconfident. I want to do better,” she says.

Ajay says it is important to ensure that his progress is smooth. “I’m focusing on her development. I don’t want to push her at this point and so I’m not loading her. I’m very careful with her workouts even when it comes to running with spikes He had practiced with spikes only a few days before the incident.

“She’s got a lot of potential. She’s tall, she’s got good steps and she’s got a lot of fire.”

Though he has India’s leading time (400m) this season, Ajay is yet to take a call on whether to target the Asian Games in September in Hangzhou.

“I will have to talk to AFI and discuss. Of course, I am preparing him for the Asian Junior Championships this year and the focus will be on the World Junior Championships next year. But she has clocked well and we will see if she can compete in inter-state for Asian Games selection,” says Ajay, who has also trained two-time world junior mixed relay medalist Priya Mohan.

Heena, who won a 200m silver and a gold in the team medley (run the 100m, 200m and 300m with anchors running the 400m) grew up worshiping multiple Olympic medalist Allyson Felix. Her parents are Kabaddi players and her father introduced her to sprints when she was just five years old.

“I was very young when my father took me to the field. He used to show me videos of Allyson Felix. Since then I wanted to become a 400m runner. She runs smoothly and I try to follow her style,” she says.

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