How Dutee Chand overcame trials, hurdles and challenges to make way into the Tokyo Olympics
A tribute to one of India's modern-day athletes who has broken barriers both on and off the racing track
Athletes have a habit of being written off as failures every time something goes against them, before rising again to meet the expectations of a sporting fraternity that is bent upon critiquing their every move. Dutee Chand is one such athlete who has been at center of the Indian athletic scene for the past few years. She has battled all kinds of physical and mental issues that came her way both in India and abroad. This article celebrates her indomitable spirit that has impacted sportspersons on and off the racing track.
As recently as a few days back, Dutee Chand was included in the list of 26 athletes to be part of the Athletics Federation of India squad for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. She became the first Indian woman to compete in the Olympics after 36 years when she qualified for the Rio Olympics in 2016. Fast forward to 2021 and she will be heading to Tokyo based on her world ranking in both the 100m and 200m events.
For the past few months, she had been working consistently on bettering her personal record within the range of 11 seconds in the 100m event. Dutee Chand clocked 11.17 seconds in the Indian Grand Prix towards the end of June that set her personal best much higher than other world competitors. This set her in rank 44 in the 100m and 51 in the 200m which allowed her the last gasp entry on the flight to Tokyo.
Dutee Chand's story tracks back to Gopalpur in Odisha where she was one of 7 children born to a family living in abject poverty. She made her way to begin training at a sports hostel under a scholarship at the age of 10. Her talent for sprinting was recognized early on in her life and this culminated in 2012 when Dutee timed 11.80 seconds in the 100m Under 18 event at the National Championships. This led to a gradual rise in her stature as 'one for the future.
What people did not know was that she was to be a star athlete who would be bringing laurel after laurel for the country in a few years' time. Without delving into the training regime of a sprinter, a layman's understanding of the entire short and middle-distance events is that it takes a lot to be consistent in a field where milliseconds are the difference between Gold and Silver. Indian athletes are no strangers to agonizing finishes with both PT Usha and Milkha Singh missing out on medals by a literal whisker in their respective days. Dutee has had to suffer a lot more than just millisecond misses.
One of the biggest obstacles that Dutee Chand faced was the case she fought in front of the CAS( Court of Arbitration for Sport). The case pertained to the eligibility of her partaking in women's athletics events if her testosterone levels were above the requisite level mandated by medical tests. The incident came to light after a regular medical check-up on her became a series of tests to determine whether she had substances induced in her body. This turned out to show her testosterone levels as higher than normal and was in violation of the IAAF regulations.
Given the provisional ban on her, it remained unclear whether she would be missing out on the Golden years of her athletic career due to no fault of her own. Eventually, the CAS ruled in her favour and Dutee managed to return to the track in 2015. In doing so she brought about a certain amount of attention to what female athletes go through in a bid to represent their country. The IAAF also brought about new guidelines for female athletes who had Hyperandrogenism.
A Sporting Icon
At a time when many Indian's still find it hard to grasp the fact that same-sex love and marriage is not abnormal, Dutee Chand has gone a step further and shut down critics of her lifestyle and personal choices. It came as a surprise to many when she declared that she was a lesbian but for those of us in the sporting fraternity, our love for whom she is only gone a notch higher.
It does take a lot for an Indian athlete to have such a stand and considering Dutee's background, her love story is a precedent that shall be set in stone for the ages to come. She faced a backlash from her family in this regard but just like how she fought her legal battle, Dutee took up the task of standing by whom she is as a person.
For us at the Bridge and all the sporting fans who stand by our athletes in their pursuits, Dutee is more than a national icon. Maybe she deserves more fame to put her out there with the likes of Magin Rapinoe and Serena Williams who are ace sporting idols around the world. But for now, we must revel in what she has done for Indian athletics over the past decade.
Whether it be breaking records or dismantling stereotypes, Dutee deserves every bit of the credit and fame she has received on and off the track. She represents the LGBTQ Community in India that has battled for years to be recognized in good light. She also stands before athletes who will never give up on their dream of achieving India's first medal in athletics at the Olympics.
This is a story of her spirit that never dies.