How Rachita Mistry's Olympic 100m qualification got lost in history
Last week, widely circulated headlines stated that comeback queen Dutee Chand became India’s first women’s 100m Olympic qualifier in the last 36 years, since the legendary PT Usha. Indeed, a historic event for the country that has failed to produce a single Olympic athletics medallist, post independence albeit coming very close. Due to its inherent struggles in athletics, qualification for any discipline itself becomes a feat for the nation. However, in a case of sheer ignorance, one entire Olympic qualification was forgotten by India’s sporting ecosystem and governing bodies.
Much like her Odisha state compatriot Dutee, Rachita Mistry was also at the pinnacle of the 100m in India. From 1990 to 2002, she dominated the circuit along with PT Usha. Her efforts finally culminated in Olympic qualification for Sydney in 2000, after she registered 11.38 seconds, breaking Usha’s national record of 11.40 seconds. This made her and not Dutee, the second Indian woman to qualify in the 100m event. But, once Dutee’s 11.24 seconds run news circulated around the media last week, neither the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) nor the Sports Ministry interfered to rectify proceedings.
My own relatives questioned the Sydney Olympic qualification: Rachita
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, Rachita said, “When I saw the news on TV, my children asked me ‘Mom, but you also qualified for the 100m event right?’ I immediately called the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and told them how they had got it wrong. But they asked me to do something about it as they didn’t write this in their official document. Mr K P Mohan, who is journalist from that time had facts and figures about my qualification, I collated the information. I tried to reach the national media, but couldn’t. Some local Odiya channels came and covered it, but not. So many people doubted me, calling me and telling me that I never qualified for the Olympics.”
On July 5, 2000, Rachita ran an 11.26 second National meet race, however, due to lack of doping test measures at the event her timing was cancelled. She officially qualified for the Olympics on August 12, 2000, when she clocked 11.38 seconds in Trvandrum subsequently setting the country’s fastest timing and making the Sydney cut by 0.2 seconds.
She added, “During our times Olympic qualification was very different, nobody cared whether you qualified or not. Until you won a medal at the Olympics or came close to it, nobody would bother it was just another day. To be honest, even the athletes thought that way in a lot of cases. There was no support or infrastructure. Even when I clocked 11.26 seconds, I thought this will help me progress to the next round and I lost that timing because there was no doping test organised for the event in Bangalore.”
Non paritcipation in 100m event created confusion within records
The confusion was created, because Rachita never participated in Sydney in an individual event. Rachita said, “Both me and Anil Kumar from Kerala were asked by our coaches to concentrate more on relay as we had a higher chance of a medal there. Both of us had qualified for Sydney in the 100m event Men’s and Women’s, but we also collectively decided to concentrate on the relay and stepped back.”
This non-participation was the reason why most people completely forgot about her success in 2000. She added, “Even during that time it was difficult. When I beat PT Usha in the nationals, people used to say I beat her only because Usha is out of form or injured, and even now people don’t want to consider my national record and Olympic qualification. I know I qualified and the records don’t lie. Nothing more disheartening than people stating that I didn’t qualify on my face.”
Born in Rourkela, she began her career as the youngest Indian to participate at the Asian Games, aged just 14. Till 2002, the sprinter represented Indian in every Commonwealth and Asian Games edition. Her marquee success event was the 1998 Asian Championship, where she won gold in the 4x100 metre relay event in Japan.
Rachita added, “Even my own state forgot that I was the national record holder. Many local channels aired that Dutee broke PT Usha’s record and not mine. It’s demeaning and disrespectful to completely negate my achievements in the way it has been. All I can say is Dutee is the third and not second Indian woman to qualify for the Olympics in the 200m event.”
One look at Rachita’s Olympic profiled also confirms that she did qualify, but never ended up representing India in the individual. The basic question now arises, who is to blame for the lack of knowledge, India as a collective unit, or authorities who didn’t acknowledge a problem?