Odia girl Dutee Chand now has the envious reputation of being the first female professional Indian sprinter to qualify for the 100-metres sprint in the 2016 Rio Olympics, post-introduction of qualification standards at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
At the end of a strenuous training session for the day, Dutee takes some time out to grab a quick tête-à-tête with The News Minute.
The 20-year old will go down in Indian athletic history as only the second Indian female athlete to make it to the Olympics after PT Usha who debuted in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and who also went on to miss the bronze by a whisker in the 400-metres hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Running from the age of six, Dutee draws her inspiration from her 32-year-old elder sister Saraswati Chand who is herself an athlete and has won six medals at the World Police and Fire Games held in 2009.
A normal day in her life starts at 5 am with ground-training. The day ends only at 10 pm, after ensuring at least a minimum of six hours of practice and rigorous workouts on a daily basis.
Dutee has nursed her dreams of winning an Olympic gold for as long as she can remember. She now finds herself on a real high which propels her further in her quest for that elusive Olympic medal, long denied to athletes from the world’s largest democracy.
Speaking about her hard-earned entry into the Olympics arena at Rio, Dutee says: “I have fought long and hard to reach this stage. I struggled a lot in life –both on and off the field- but now all that matters is that I am an Olympian. It is doubly sweet for me, as this comes after the huge furore caused by the gender verification controversy which had almost transformed my Olympic dreams into a virtual nightmare".
She was dropped from the Commonwealth Games contingent in 2014 at the eleventh hour, after the Athletic Federation of India declared that her hyperandrogenism -a medical condition characterized by excessive levels of androgens (male sex hormones) in the human body- as a disqualifier for competing as a female athlete.
The Indian government went on to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on her behalf which suspended the controversial regulation for a period of two years, thereby allowing Dutee to compete once again.
The CAS has asked for convincing evidence to be provided by the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) to prove the link between high androgen levels and improved athletic performance within these two years, failing which the said regulation would automatically be revoked once and for all.
But for now, Dutee is free to run and compete to her heart’s content. Hailing from Chaka Gopalpur village in the Jajpur district of Orissa, Dutee was born to Chakradhar and Akhuji Chand -a poor weaver couple- on 3 February 1996.
For the first few years of her ‘running’ life, Dutee Chand practised bare-feet, as her family couldn't afford to even buy her a pair of shoes. She became the 100 metres national champion in the Under-18 category, with a timing of 11.8 seconds in 2012 at the age of 16.
"I was a 10-year-old when I finally got my first pair of shoes. My sister borrowed a pair of canvas shoes from someone, only because I had asked for one. It was an absolutely new experience for me, as I was so accustomed to running without shoes. It actually took me a few years to get used to it. Truth be said, it is difficult to run on the track without shoes. For an athlete, shoes are their best friends, like books are for readers", Dutee smiles.
Dutee makes no secret about aiming for the gold medal at Rio. She of course first wants to win the gold for India, and then later concentrate on breaking the current world record mark of 10.49 seconds that was set by the late Florence Griffith Joyner of the U.S. in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Dutee has much going for her ambitious racing plans for the Olympic. She erased Rachita Mistry’s 16-year old record (11.38 seconds) by clocking 11.33 seconds in April this year at the Federation Cup held in Delhi.
She went on to clock 11.30 seconds in the women’s 100m heats, and then ran an even better 11.24 seconds in the finals to win a silver medal at the XXVI International Kazakhstan Meet in June. That was her ticket to the Rio Olympics.
The indefatigable runner however rues the fact that India sorely lags in good runners, and she hopes that the Indian government would go all out to encourage its athletes to win medals for the nation at the international level.
As her native state of Orissa lacked the requisite sporting infrastructure, Dutee had to shift a few years ago to Hyderabad to continue with her training. She yearns to start an academy of her own for athletes in Orissa.
Dutee does not idolize anyone in sports. Instead, she prefers to become one herself so as to inspire the younger generations.
The gritty lass also nutures political ambitions in order to eradicate poverty from the country: “Power seems to be the solution to all problems in India. I hence aspire to become an MLA or an MP some day to sort out issues like poverty, and also to encourage our athletes to aspire to take India to the pinnacle in sporting history. Sportspersons are now in a comfortable space, thanks to the efforts of the Centre. I just hope it continues.”
Getting back to her gruelling schedule, Dutee signs off with a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to her family, sister and coach Ramesh Nagapuri for being there for her through all her trying times, and for making her who she is today.