One of India’s top athletes, the country's fastest woman, Dutee Chand almost missed the bus for Tokyo. Thankfully, her world ranking ensured she would be in Tokyo with the rest of the contingent for her second Olympic Games, after Rio.
22 spots were up for grabs in the 100m and 15 spots in the 200m via the World Rankings route for the delayed Tokyo Games. Dutee's overall position of World No 44 in 100m and World No 51 in 200m were well within the cutoffs, making her eligible for a trip to Japan.
In 2016, in Rio, she was the first Indian woman athlete to qualify for the 100m event in 36 years!
Dutee had faltered at her last chance for direct qualification for Tokyo with a disappointing finish in the 100m event at the National Inter-State Senior Athletics Championships.
The 25-year-old, who registered a new NR in the women's 100m with a time of 11.17 seconds in the Indian Grand Prix in Patiala, missed the Olympic qualification time by just 0.02 seconds.
With the much talked about Hima Das not going for the Summer Games, Dutee the spotlight on Dutee will be stronger. However, expect that to not affect an athlete, who has had to deal with a fair number of hurdles so far.
The sprinter from Jajpur in Odisha is quietly confident of her abilities and hopes to bring home an elusive athletics medal for India.
Starting from February, Dutee has taken part in 8 100m events in India, mostly in Patiala, winning 6 of them, with a best time of 11.17 seconds. Her timings in the other races however were all above 11.40 seconds.
Unfortunately, her preparations for the marquee Games took a big hit when an indoor track event in Almaty, Kazakhstan was cancelled at the last moment. She had hoped to start 2021 by running the 60m dash, a non-Olympic event, at Almaty. This was meant to be her warm-up for the Indian season.
“I couldn’t compete in other indoor meets in Europe due to the seven days quarantine guideline for athletes from India. Since I don’t face tough competition on the home soil, races in Europe would have given a good start to the season,” Dutee had said.
The ace sprinter’s preparations may not have been as she would have liked, but she has tried to make the best use of her situation during the COVID-19 pandemic and has kept on training relentlessly.
However optimistic she may be, Dutee understands the difficulties of the task on hand and knows her timing needs to improve further. Her current Personal Best in her favoured event, 100m, is a little behind the higher ranked competitors.
In Rio, the top three times were 10.71, 10.83, and 10.86 seconds with Elaine Thompson, Tori Bowie, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce taking Gold, Silver and Bronze respectively.
Expect the Jamaicans to do their thing on the track as the likes of Fraser-Pryce and Thompson are among the top 4 in the rankings leading up to the Games. Great Britain’s highly-rated Dina Asher-Smith, ranked 5th in the Road to Olympic Games rankings is likely to be the strongest contender for the Jamaicans.
For the ace from Odisha, the journey to her second Olympic games has not been easy. Her interest in the sport picked up only after she started winning races as during the sports day events in school. And the first pair of running shoes, which treated like a prized possession, was given to her n 2005.
A move to the Sports Hostel, Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar, helped her at a very crucial juncture as resources were limited. And in 2010, it took a 12-second 100m dash National Juniors U-16 that convinced everyone about her abilities.
And while the next three years only helped build on the reputation. She was all set to take the next steps in her international career after winning two Gold medals at the 2014 Asian Junior Athletics Championships.
From 2014 started a difficult time for her as she was dropped from the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games Squad after a decision was made in compliance with IOC’s then regulations on female hyperandrogenism which was to address a perceived advantage for female athletes with high androgen levels. While the authorities of course received criticism from all corners, Dutee appealed to the highest court in sport, Co urt of Arbitration for Sport, who, in 2015 ruled that there wasn’t enough evidence to back up the claims of perceived advantages for female athletes due to higher testosterone levels. This breathed life into Dutee’s career as her ban was lifted and she returned to the track.
After seeing off the legal battles, Dutee, a student of law herself, quickly returned to bagging medals, eventually winning two historic Silver medals in the 100m and 200m events at the Asian Games. She carried the form onto 2019 and won Gold at the 2019 Summer Universiade in Napoli, becoming the first Indian to do so at a global competition.
A lack of international competition thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, just as she her career was picking up pace has, means the preparations are not ideal. And while the pandemic has affected other athletes too, bettering her time and pitting herself against stiff competition is what the Indian sprinter has missed out on.
The lack of appropriate preparation will be her biggest concern at Tokyo.
But be that as it may, Dutee’s career, through the ups and downs, has been a story of grit, determination and immense will power while fighting the odds, right from the early years.
Dutee has put in the hours and the hard work in training in India and felt the effects of lack of training in March in Patiala at the Federation Cup.
India's fastest woman is keen to improve on her Olympic experience after a disappointing debut on the big stage, will the will power see her through in what is a difficult field to conquer?