Back in 1997, when Madhuri Saxena Bains was asked to appear in trials for a job in the Punjab State Electricity Board at Patiala, Madhuri was pregnant with her first child. Accompanied by her husband, the international athlete Amandeep Singh Bains, who was initially not keen on his pregnant wife running the trials, the 800m and 1500 m athlete secured the job with her performance in the trials. Seven months later, Madhuri would give birth to a daughter, which the couple named Harmilan, and four years later, Madhuri won the silver medal in women’s 800m race in the Busan Asian Games in 2002. On Sunday evening, as Harmilan Kaur Bains equalled her mother’s feat by winning the silver medal in women’s 1500 m final at the Hangzhou Olympics Centre in Asian Games, the Bains couple tried their best to hold back their tears.
“Harmilan ne tan mere pait to hi daudna sikhya hai (Harmilan has learnt running from my womb). My husband would tell me not to give the trials as I was pregnant at that time. But I wanted to run. When Harmilan was born, we prayed to god that she would become a runner like the two of us. To see her win an Asian Games medal today has brought back all the memories of myself winning the medal in Busan Asian Games,” shares the proud mother and former Indian athlete while talking with The Indian Express.
While Madhuri hailed from Balamu in Uttar Pradesh, the Bains couple worked in Patiala, a city where Harmilan took her first steps on the athletics track. Father Amandeep is a 1500m 1996 South Asian Games medallist and it was his wish to make Harmilan practice for both 1500m as well 800m events. “Harmilan was very young when both I and my wife still competed at the international level. When Madhuri returned with the silver medal in Busan Asian Games, a young Harmilan would not leave the medal and play with it for hours. When she showed her interest in sports, we decided to let her train in 800m as well 1500m events and there has been no looking back for her,” shared the father.
“While Madhuri finished fourth in the 1500m in Busan, we often joke that the 1500m is my event and that’s where Harmilan is breaking records,” Amandeep laughs. “But to be frank, competing in both the events has benefitted her a lot. She understands the pace required for the 800m event as well the endurance level required in the 1500m event. Maybe it’s due to the genes of both me and my wife present in her!.But she knows how to balance between the two and it has benefited her a lot,” says Amandeep, who now runs a marriage banquet hall ‘Milan Palace’, named after his daughter in Mahilpur in Punjab.
A silver medal each in the 800m and1500m at the U-18 nationals at Ranchi in 2015 was followed by a bronze medal in the 1500m in the Junior Asian Championships in Vietnam in 2016. The Punjab youngster first broke the 4 minutes and 22 second mark in 1500 m at the Inter State Championships at Guwahati in 2018 before she bettered the 4 minutes and 14.78 seconds set by her mother in 1500m in Busan by ten seconds in the Khelo India University games in 2020. The next year saw Harmilan breaking her mother’s -team-mate and competitor Sunita Rani’s 16-year-old national record of four minutes and 6.03 seconds with a timing of four minutes and 5.39 seconds at the National Open Championships in Warangal. The youngster also achieved her personal best timing of two minutes and 2.57 seconds in the 800m in the same year.
On Sunday evening, Harmilan clocked a timing of four minutes and 12.74 seconds to finish behind gold medallist Mutile Yavi of Brunei (4:11:65). “Harmilan had suffered a knee injury last year and the way she has recovered after the injury speaks about her talent. She is able to switch off her mind from one discipline to the other and this ability also ensures that she can use the advantage of pace of 800m in 1500m and endurance of 1500 m in 800m in a balanced way. Training in England recently has also helped her,” said Indian deputy chief athletics coach Dr Kalyan Chaudhary.
At the Bains home in Mahilpur near Hoshiarpur, Madhuri knows which sweets her daughter will ask for on her return. “While she likes Punjabi food, she likes sweets from my paternal home in Uttar Pradesh. She likes to have Chena Toast from Lucknow and that’s what she will ask for,” says the mother.