India’s Golden Girl at Rio – Dutee Chand5 min read
A few days before the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Glasgow, India was deprived of a possible medal in athletics when the Athletic Federation of India dropped Dutee Chand from the contingent stating her hyperandrogenism as the reason. The decision invited criticism but it was upheld. For Dutee, who hails from a weaver family in the Gopalpur district of Odisha, beating odds wasn’t new. She fought against this too, and the Indian Government appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) on her behalf. As a result, the CAS, in July 2015, issued an order to suspend hyperandrogenism tests for female athletes for two years, thus making her eligible to run again.
Now, a year later, Dutee, a law student aged 20, carries on her shoulders, the hopes of a country, as she becomes the first Indian female in 20 years after P.T. Usha to represent India in 100m at the Olympics.
The Manipal Journal caught up with the ace sprinter before she headed to Rio to live her Olympic dream.
Congratulations on making the cut for the Rio Olympics. How do you feel?
Thank you. It is a dream come true. I had always dreamt of going to the Olympics. I am extremely glad that I am doing it today, and that my efforts have been fruitful.
Can you tell us about how you got into athletics and how it was during your school life?
I have six sisters, and a brother. My sister used to run in the police grounds, and she used to take me along. At that time, I didn’t know much about running. When I gave it a try, she and her coach asked me to pursue it. That’s how I started. I started winning medals in primary school. I even got a sports scholarship in 2006 to go to a government school in Bhubaneshwar. I stayed there and continued to train.
You missed the qualification in April by 0.01 seconds. Later, you broke the national record twice, in a single day. What was going through your mind during that time?
Back in Guwahati, I underwent a low phase. I lost and did not participate in a lot of competitions after that. My coach said, “We will try our best. If you win, its good, otherwise, we will take this as a practice for your improvement.” I had worked very hard for it, and I knew that if I win, I’d qualify. I knew that the competition in Kazakhstan would be tough, but my hard work bore fruit when I performed well. I was very happy with what I had achieved, and later, I got to know that I had broken a 16-year old record, which made me happier.
You received a lot of support from people like Santhi Soundarajan, in addition to the media during the Commonwealth games issue. What was your initial plan at that point of time?
It was gender activist, Ms. Payoshni Mitra who supported me the most. I told her that I wanted to return to the field. She said she would get me back to the ground, and she did. Everyone else’s support was only limited to the media domain, and it didn’t really help me.
The International Olympic Committee scrapped out gender testing in 1999, but it was the Athletic Federation of India that created an issue for you. What do you have to say about the difference in the testing regulations of the various boards?
There is no rule as such. They just have dope tests and there is no gender test. After the Swiss meeting, they did away with the hyperandrogenism test as well. Whatever the IOC says is supposed to be followed by everyone. It is not necessary to follow what the federation says. They troubled me a lot, harassed me and questioned my gender.
What do you have to say about the facilities Indian athletes get?
Facilities were provided to me, which is the reason why I have come this far.
Ahead of the Olympics, what kind of training programs have you been undertaking? What is your plan of action till the Olympics?
There was a lot of exertion during the qualifying competitions. I am currently training for 100, 200, and 400 sprints.
Can you tell us about the role your coach, Ramesh sir, has played in your journey?
My coach is the only reason I have been able to reach the Olympics. In 2012, during the London Olympics, he made me dream of running in the Olympics. He inspired and motivated me to improve and that is how I have reached this stage. He asked my sister to call me because he saw potential in me, and promised to train me. I went with him to Patiala for training, because of which I have won these medals.
The athletics contingent has grown bigger this year. What do you have to say about that?
I would like to thank the Sports Authority of India for understanding the plight of the athletes and for providing them with whatever they require. Earlier, there weren’t quality facilities. Now, we have access to the best facilities. The government sponsors our competitions and training programs abroad. If this stays the case, there will be a further growth in the number of athletes in the future, who would represent India and win laurels for our country.
You are 20, which is a very tender age. How do you manage your academic and sports life?
I attended classes and trained for the competition simultaneously when I was in my native town. My school completely supported my training, and the college where I currently study is also providing huge support, in addition to the government. They give me air tickets and Rs. 10,000 per month for my expenditure. They have also waived off my tuition fee.
What is/are your personal target(s) at the Olympics?
My basic aim was to qualify for the Olympics, and now that I have, I aim to give my best. I want to win the gold medal at the Olympics. Since this is my first Olympics, I am clueless about the tracks and everything that is there. Only when I go and see for myself, will I be able to set my timing and my aim.
The Manipal Journal wishes Dutee Chand luck for the Olympics.
With inputs from Shivani Singh. Edited by Manasi Susarla
Picture Courtesy: Graham Crouch/The New York Times