Feature

Underprepared at Rio 2016, Dutee Chand will be ready for Tokyo Olympics

With the Olympics postponed by a year, the Indian sprinter is keen to make the most of the extended period.

By Subhayan Dutta ·

Ace Indian sprinter Dutee Chand is confident she will be well prepared for the Tokyo Olympics.

And if her recent form is anything to go by, it would be hard to believe otherwise.

For the last two years, Dutee Chand has been setting the track alight with her performances, starting with her silver medals at the 2018 Asian Games.

While her second-place finish in the women's 100m dash in Jakarta was India’s first medal in that event in just over three decades, her success in the 200m was India’s first in 16 years.

Last year, she became the first sprinter from her country to bag a gold medal at a global meet at the Universiade in Napoli, while earlier this year Dutee Chand claimed two gold medals - in the 100m and the 200m - at the Khelo India University Games (KIUG).

Then came the coronavirus outbreak that not only halted all meets leading up to the Tokyo Olympics but pushed the Games itself to the following year.

But that won’t deter Chand in any way.

“I had all the necessary support and training ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and I was ready,” Dutee Chand told the Olympic Channel ..

“I have to be ready again when the qualification tournaments begin next year.”

Proud moment for Dutee Chand at Rio 2016

The last time she appeared at the Games, she made waves by becoming the first Indian female athlete in 36 years to qualify for the 100m in the Olympics at Rio 2016.

The build-up to the 2016 Olympics, however, wasn’t this smooth for the Odisha sprinter.

She sat ineligible for competitions for two years owing to hyperandrogenism, but when she was finally cleared to compete by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), Dutee Chand had with very little time to prepare.

But despite the lack of time, the Indian sprinter ensured that she booked her place at Rio 2016 with a silver medal-winning performance at the 26th G Kosanov Memorial Meet in Kazakhstan, barely two months prior to the Games.

Though Dutee Chand’s maiden Olympic campaign ended prematurely at the heat stages, her struggles are well documented.

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The Odisha sprinter had travelled 36 hours across three flights in economy class to reach Rio de Janeiro and stayed there without her coach, whose accreditation issues prevented him from travelling.

Dutee Chand had just one pair of worn-out spikes for the Olympics and it was only after her coach revealed it in an interview that an online retail site decided to give her a new pair, just days before the Olympics.

However, Dutee Chand brushed those issues aside when recalling her Rio campaign. For her, sitting idle hit her the most.

“I didn’t get much time to train for it [Rio Games] owing to the ban [hyperandrogenism]. I had mental pressure as well,” she explained.

“But, I was proud to be the first Indian to compete in 36 years [in 100m race], since PT Usha did. I learnt a lot from the athletes in Rio, about how to train and keep oneself fit,” she added.

A 20-year-old Dutee Chand had quickly left the experience behind by winning two bronze medals in the 100m and 4x100m events at the 2017 Asian Championships and has not looked back since.

Planning ahead

With her qualification uncertain for the Tokyo Games, Dutee Chand had her itinerary chalked out for the months leading up to the Olympics, initially scheduled in July this year, when COVID-19 struck.

“I had planned to go to Germany and train there to increase my qualification chances, and simultaneously participate in events. Everything has stopped now,” said Dutee Chand.

However, with the Tokyo Games being pushed by a year and World Athletics deciding to suspend the qualification period till November 30, Dutee Chand and many like her have been granted a new lease of life.

The Indian now has over a year to prepare herself and meet the 11.15 seconds cut-off mark for the women’s 100m event. However, training isn’t the only concern going through Dutee Chand’s mind.

“I don’t have any immediate plans now, but I’ll speak to my manager and we have to look for sponsors for next year. We also have to select proper training centres for my practice as well,” she added.

Surviving without competition

Like most athletes across the world, Dutee Chand has been limited to home workouts and it has been enough to keep her active amid the confines of an indoor setup.

The sprinter, however, reckons she will need months of high-intensity training to get back her optimal speed before she starts competing at the highest level again.

“We can survive without competitions but without training, it’s difficult. It will take around six months for me to get back to speed again,” Dutee Chand said from her home in Odisha.

“We are runners and our training consists of practising on tracks for hours. Our body cannot straightaway get ready. So, we are waiting for the training to resume first,” she added.

For now, like the rest of the world, Dutee Chand is waiting to get started again - soon.