In 2016, Odisha-born sprinter Dutee Chand made India proud when she became the first woman athlete from the country to qualify for the 100 metres event at the Olympics (Rio), in 36 years. Now 25, Dutee has added a new feather to her accomplishments by becoming the first Indian athlete to qualify for two consecutive Olympics – the Rio Olympics of 2016 and the ongoing Tokyo Olympics. Apart from the 100 m race, she has also qualified for the 200 m sprint at the games.
In an interaction with The Federal, the sprinter, who is currently training for the games in Bhubaneswar, says that her prime target will be to focus on the 100 m event.
“My main focus will be the 100m race as it is my personal event. I look forward to beating my own score of 11.17 seconds and winning a medal in the race in Tokyo,” she said.
Dutee broke her own national record in June this year when she completed the 100 m sprint in 11.17 seconds — just short of the qualifying mark for Olympics by 0.02 seconds – at the National Athletic Grand Prix in Patiala. But in a stroke of luck, she later qualified for the 100 m and 200 m events in Olympics on basis of her world ranking. She ranks 44th in the 100 m and 51st in the 200 m sprints.
Dutee, who is confident of bringing a medal home this time, however, says training for the event wasn’t a cakewalk, more so because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdowns.
“My training was hampered a lot from the time the lockdown was announced last year. All gyms and swimming pools were closed, and I had to train at my own house. My physiotherapist couldn’t come home, and I had to train all alone, which was very difficult,” she said.
The Arjun awardee said while athletes like her often train for the Olympics in foreign countries between participating in competitions, none of it was possible due to curbs on international travel during the pandemic. “I was supposed to go to Germany for three months for training and participating in various competitions, but they were cancelled due to the COVID-19 situation in the country,” she said.
Dutee, who ran the 100 m sprint at Rio, 36 years after PT Usha’s represented India at the event, says she trains five hours on a usual day and an additional hour when she has an international event in the offing. Her training includes track workouts, swimming, and gym workouts.
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In 2014, the two-time Asian Games silver medallist was dropped from the Indian team just days before the Glasgow Commonwealth Games over hyperandrogenism or the presence of high testosterone levels in the body. According to the rules of International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), female athletes with testosterone levels above a certain limit cannot participate in the games. When Chand was disqualified, she challenged these rules in the Court of Arbitration in Switzerland. She finally won the case against the IAAF in 2018, setting a new course for many athletes like her.
“The hormones in my body are natural, I didn’t take any drugs or didn’t dupe anyone, then how can you ban me? The fitness level of athletes from different countries are different and every human body is different,” she said.
Dutee says she is grateful to the Indian government, the Odisha government, Odisha-based private firms like KIIT, her advisor Payoshni Mitra and the press for motivating her during her legal fight with IAAF.
The sprinter said the argument that athletes like her with high androgen levels have an edge over other female contestants, and thus better chances to win, is a myth.
“This is entirely wrong. Higher androgen levels are not advantageous to any sport. If that had been the case, I would have been ranked first in the world. Training and hard work is the key to success in every sport,” she reasoned.
Dutee, who has been a frequent subject of controversies in the sports circle, created a flutter in 2019 when she announced of being in a same-sex relationship. Even though her family, especially her sister, publicly objected to the relationship and threatened to disown her, fans supported Dutee in her stand.
“People will obviously blame you and your personal life for everything. As always, I am currently focused on my training for Olympics and don’t pay attention to what people say,” she said.
The sprinter believes that parents should encourage their children to take part in sports as it is the best way to inculcate wellness and workout in one’s life. “One can easily build a whole career in sports these days, with the immense support that the government and the private sectors are offering to sportspersons. Once you excel in sports, you also become eligible for a government job,” she said.