India's Olympics sprinter Dutee Chand pleads for new equipment
Dutee Chand is sprinting hard and she has her aim set -- the coveted gold medal at the Rio Olympics where she would compete in the 100-metre event, the first Indian woman to do so in 36 years.
Dutee has brought her chequered career back on track by clinching Olympic qualification earlier this month with a national record. This 20-year-old from Odisha is now aiming to do what no Indian athlete has managed so far - win a gold medal at 'the greatest show on earth'.
"I will compete with the best sprinters in the world. So, I am taking rigorous training and devoting all my time towards better performance and clinch the gold medal at the Olympics," Dutee told IANS in an interview.
"Even though it is not very easy to win a medal at the Olympics, I will put in my heart and soul and ensure that I give my best," she added.
However, the ace sprinter is unhappy with the lack of support from the government and asserted that more should be done to encourage Indian athletes.
"Odisha Chief Minister (Naveen Patnaik) wished me for the Olympics. With his good wishes and blessings, I would definitely try to win a gold medal at the Rio Olympics. But my main concern is to acquire a new equipment, as mine are worn out. They are quite expensive, and I request the state government to provide a set of tracksuit and a few other equipment so that I could give my best performance," Dutee said.
"I feel sad when I ask for help from the government. I have brought laurels to the state and the country. Then why should I request for help? I feel like a beggar. The government should provide assistance on its own, but I have to beg before it," she rued.
It was a remarkable comeback for the young athlete who has battled adversity all her life. Hailing from a poor family of weavers from Gopalpur village in Jajpur district of Odisha, the athlete has defeated all obstacles to reach the pinnacle of her sport.
Just two years back she was banned for an indefinite period under the guidelines of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) that debar athletes with hyperandrogenism -- excessive but naturally occurring testosterone -- in the women's category.
The then 18-year-old had won two gold medals at the Asian Junior Athletics Championship in Taiwan and was looking forward to competing at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow when her name was struck off the team list at the last minute after the Athletic Federation of India (AFI) stated that hyperandrogenism made her ineligible to compete as a female athlete.
The decisions by the AFI and IAAF were widely criticised as an affront to Dutee's privacy and human rights.
To her credit, despite seeing the entire world crashing all around her, Dutee did not give up. She won the right to compete again only in July last year after a landmark legal battle at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Returning to the track after more than a year, Dutee missed the Olympic mark by one-hundredth of a second at the athletics Grand Prix in the capital and went on to produce a few indifferent performances at various qualifying meets.
"I was pulled out from the Commonwealth contingent in 2014 due to the hyperandrogenism regulations of the IAAF. Even though it has no effect on my career, it affected my training," Dutee said.
"I had to run from pillar to post during those turbulent times, and I had to go through mental agony. I am glad that I am back on track".
"Thankfully, I had people like my coach (N. Ramesh) and Payoshini Mitra (gender rights activist) to guide me all along. I would have never returned to the track had they not stood by me," Dutee added.
Dutee's perseverance finally bore fruit earlier this month when she earned an Olympic berth in the heats at the XXVI International Meeting G Kosanov Memorial in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Not only did she beat the qualifying mark of 11.32 seconds, she also established a new national record with a time of 11.30 seconds.
She bettered the national record for the second time in a day when she clocked 11.24 seconds in the final later that day to clinch the silver.
Before this, the legendary P.T. Usha was the only Indian woman to feature in the Olympic sprint events -- she had competed in the 100m and 200m at the 1980 Moscow Games. But Dutee is the first Indian woman athlete to qualify since qualification standards were introduced at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
The gutsy athlete is now dreaming of competing with the best in the world in Rio and is busy rooting out the weak points in her armour.
"I got qualified for the Rio Olympics after the fourth try. I realised that my weakness is the last 20 metres in the race. My muscles get tightened affecting the speed during running. I'm working on overcoming it," she remarked.
Dutee had wanted to undergo a training stint in the US which ultimately never happened due to government indifference and believes that her Olympic qualification would have come much earlier if the stint had materialised.
"Now my focus is on the Rio Olympics. Since only a month is left for the Olympics, I don't have any special training plan. I would continue the practice in Hyderabad. As the Olympics village would be opened 10 days before the main event, I will travel to Rio on July 30 to get acclimatised with the condition," she said.
"I approached both the state and central governments to facilitate my training in the Chula Vista High-Performance Training Center in the US. But it did not materialise. I will be going to the US to get training for the 2018 Commonwealth Games if the state and central governments provide assistance," Dutee added.
"If I had gone to train in the US, I would have qualified much earlier and would have been training for the Olympics."
(Chinmaya Dehury can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )