Rio de Janeiro: Spare a thought for India’s top sprinter Dutee Chand. She has been through a lot in the last two years. And people who were questioning her existence are now the ones waiting for her to compete with the fastest female athletes of the world.
But it was not long ago when Chand’s identity, her very being, was called into question. Coming from a humble family in Gopalpur, Odisha, Chand has fought battles that no other woman in India could have even thought of. It was in 2014, when she was peaking to become India’s best sprinter, that her flight was cut short by a ‘hyperandrogenism’ case.
Simply put, the athletics world refused to recognise Chand as a female. Chand was inconsolable.
“I was born a girl, competed as a girl and won medals as a girl. And now you are saying that I’m not a girl,” Chand kept asking the world while crying for months.
There was no hope, no support for Chand to fight her case. Hailing from a family of weavers, Chand’s family income was around Rs 3,000 a month. This was a cruel joke for the family of eight, who started to look up to Chand to find a job, like her elder sister, through her athletic abilities.
During the next few months when she was fighting her lone battle against the athletics federation (IAAF) or in Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS), Dutee’s only outlet to the world was a small window in her dimly-lit two-room house.
Having been subjected to a ‘hyperandrogenism’ test, Chand was scared of facing her neighbours.
She remained indoors, away from all the queries posed by the media. Sometimes, Chand would go to the corner and silently weep. She would suddenly have bouts of anger or would remain cut off from the rest of world for days.
But, those who were taunting her then now sing paeans to her athletic prowess. In a landmark CAS judgement that is now a marker for world athletes, Chand’s eligibility to compete as a female athlete was restored in time to revive her Olympic dream.
In the ensuing days, Chand clocked 11.30 seconds in the heats at the 26th G Kosanov Memorial Meet in Almaty, Kazakhstan. She also broke her own national record of 11.33s set at the recent Federation Cup. The record did not last long as she booked the Rio ticket by clocking 11.24s to win a silver medal in the finals in Almaty. The qualifying mark for the Olympics was set at 11.32s and her success is a testimony to what she has been gifted with.
Chand had to fight her case on her own. Whereas, South African Caster Semenya’s case was fought by her country. Semenya failed a similar gender test after winning gold at 2009 World Championships.
Chand may still not be able to reach anywhere near the world’s best timing in 100m. She may find it tough to be even a part of the final eight athletes (as per her best timing so far) competing to become the world’s fastest woman. However, whatever she has managed to achieve in her journey till Rio, Chand is already a winner.