Feature | Athletics

Dutee Chand is helping a new India sprint to the finish line

The 23-year-old Indian runner is not just a champion on the track but a champion for societal change as well.

By Sandeep Banerjee ·

With a hope to bring about change in societal norms, the Asian Games silver medallist Dutee Chand has not been one to shy away from speaking up about what she believes in and has gone on to set an example to scores of impressionable fans.

Dutee Chand has had to deal with allegations of doping as well as face familial opposition after announcing her homosexuality, but through it all, she has kept her athletic career on track while weathering the storm brewing around her.

Humble beginnings

Dutee Chand was born on February 3, 1996, in Jajpur, Odisha to a family of weavers who lived below the poverty line.

When she took up running along the bank of the Brahmani river at the age of four after being inspired by her sister Saraswati, it was when Chand had decided her future course.

Despite being ridiculed by those around her for pursuing a career that was seen as a man's domain, Chand persevered, training barefoot and eventually landing a sports scholarship at a government school in Bhubaneswar.

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Dutee Chand makes her name

Dutee Chand's hardships paid off in 2012 when she clocked in at 11.8 seconds in the 100m event at the National Youth Junior Athletics Championship, setting a new under-18 record in the process.

Then, in 2013, at the Asian Athletics Championships held in Pune, Dutee Chand clinched the bronze medal in the 200m category with a time of 23.82 seconds.

The same year, Chand became the first Indian to reach the 100m final at the World Youth Championships and followed that up by becoming national champion in 100m and 200m at the National Senior Athletics Championships.

She was on her way up.

A rude shock

But after dominating the Asian Junior Athletics Championships in Taipei in June 2014 and winning gold in the 200m and 4x400m relay, Chand's dream run hit a roadblock.

After failing a test that revealed her testosterone levels to be around where they are normally found in men, she was axed from the Indian contingent of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

However, the fighter in her refused to give up and following a successful appeal before the Court of Arbitration for Sports, the court ruled in favour of Dutee Chand and a rules revision was enacted soon after.

Later on, in 2018, she spoke out in support of Olympic gold medallist Caster Semenya, who came under fire from the IAAF for her hyperandrogenism.

Getting her career back on track

Absolved of any wrongdoing, Dutee Chand immediately set about straightening out her derailed career with a bronze medal at the 2016 Asian Indoor Athletics Championships at Doha, Qatar, clocking in at 7.28 seconds in the 60m category.

Then, at the G. Kosanov Memorial Meet in Kazakhstan, she made the cut for the 2016 Rio Olympics by clocking in at 11.30 seconds in the 100m category.

While she failed to move past the heats at Rio, she kept on winning other notable events, picking up two bronzes at the 2017 Asian Athletic Championships in the 100m and 4x100m relay and a silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games.

Standing up for herself

Meanwhile, following the Supreme Court of India's historic decision decriminalising gay sex in 2018, Dutee Chand came out with her revelation that she was in a same-sex relationship.

"I am having a relationship with a 19-year-old woman from my village [Chaka Gopalpur] for the past five years," she told PTI. "I have found someone who is my soulmate. I have always believed that everyone should have the freedom to love. There is no greater emotion than love and it should not be denied."

Her revelation predictably met with a lot of resistance. Even her family could not cope with it, with her sister threatening to expel Dutee Chand from the family.

"[My sister] has told me that she will send me to jail for having this relationship," she told the PTI news agency.

Keeping her focus through the storm

Once again, Dutee Chand stood resolute in the face of adversity, not letting it affect her task at hand.

In 2019, she bagged the gold medal in the 100m category at the 2019 Summer Universiade in Naples, becoming the first Indian woman sprinter to win at the Universiade and the second Indian sprinter after Hima Das to win gold in an international event.

Chasing seven-hundredths of a second

With Tokyo 2020 fast approaching, Dutee Chand is yet to clinch a berth. However, she is very close.

At the 59th National Open Athletics Championships, Dutee Chand broke her own national record with a time of 11.22 seconds in the 100m category.

With the women's 100m cut-off time for the 2020 Olympics being 11.15 seconds, the 23-year-old will have to shave at least 0.07 seconds off her best in the qualifying events coming up in February.

While all of India will be rooting for her, whether she makes the Olympic cut again or not, Dutee Chand will always be a flag-bearer for a changing India.