Exclusive: Setbacks have made me stronger says Dutee Chand

From being born to a poor family of weavers in Odisha’s Jajpur district to becoming the fastest woman in India – Dutee Chand has scripted one of the best success stories in the country.

She was just an ordinary young girl until her elder sister Saraswati’s sprinting success inspired her. Like her sister, Dutee also wanted to run, run for glory. As fate would have it, she sprinted far ahead of her sister and became an international name.

Dutee’s meteoric rise began at the national level, as she became champion in the 100 metres and 200 metres category. She then grabbed a bronze medal at the 2013 Asian Championships in Pune – her first in any international event. It was followed by two gold medals at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships in 200m and 4x400m relay race.

Just as the country was getting ready for a fresh face in sports to dominate at the international level, a tragedy-in-waiting was lurking to strike Dutee. She was ticked off the Commonwealth Games contingent list at the last minute due to ‘hyperandrogenism’, a medical condition that is characterised by high levels of androgen.

The Athletics Federation of India argued that the high levels of androgens in her body would give her an added advantage and that Dutee couldn’t participate in the competitions as a ‘female athlete.’ After the Commonwealth Games, Dutee also lost the chance to compete in the Asian Games.

Tackling Uncertainties

As the country in general and the sports fraternity in particular started discussions on the issue, the world came crashing down for a humiliated Dutee Chand, whose personal details had become the talk of the town.

“It is difficult to describe what I went through in those times. I was good at running, but all opportunities were stripped of me. I couldn’t run to bring glory to my country anymore. The nation was discussing my personal life. It was humiliating. However, I kept telling myself to focus on my goals and not get affected by distractions,” Dutee would often say.

Fortunately, the then SAI DG Jiji Thomson backed her and with the help of lawyers, Dutee appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). The ruling came in favour of Dutee and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) suspended the ruling and cleared Dutee to participate in competitions.

“Setbacks have made me stronger. They have helped me to push myself and work even harder.”

Dutee Chand

All eyes were on Dutee’s comeback and she didn’t disappoint her fans. She won a bronze in the 2016 Asian Indoor Athletics Championships. The same year, she set a new national record of 11.33 seconds in the women’s 100m sprint, erasing Rachita Mistry’s 16-year old record.

Records Tumble

In June 2016, Dutee bettered her national record and clocked 11.24 secs to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games. Dutee became the third Indian woman to participate in the women’s 100m at the Olympics.

In 2017, Dutee clinched two bronze medals at the Asian Athletics Championships held at her home state of Odisha. In the 2018 Asian Games, Dutee won the silver medal in 100m, which came 32 years after PT Usha won it in 1986.

Dutee Chand is also the first Indian sprinter to win gold in the 2019 Summer Universiade held in Napoli.

As the ace sprinter gears up to receive the prestigious Arjuna Award, she is looking beyond the recognition – at the Tokyo Olympics. The recognition is undoubtedly a proud moment for her, but a medal at the Olympics is next on her list.

“I am proud to receive such a prestigious award. I have worked hard and have won recognition at the international level. This award will encourage me to do well for the Tokyo Olympics next year. I also hope this award will become an inspiration for the young ones to take up sports as a career. For now, my focus is on my training,” Dutee says.