Karan Saxena | HT
As soon as the whistle blew for the final of the 100m race at World University Games, the fastest woman of India, Dutee Chand, began a vicious sprint out of the blocks with aspirations of winning the gold medal surging through her.
The previous month had been tough for the Odisha-born athlete. Her decision to open up about her same-sex relationship with a girl from her village, followed by a tiff with her family members, brought much unnecessary media attention to the sportstar. But the sprinter kept a laser-like focus on her ambition of winning a medal for India at the Universiade.
Last week, in Naples, Italy, her dream came true. Del Ponte from Switzerland made a last-second charge. But it was not enough to steal a win and she fell fraction of a second short of Dutee’s time of 11.32 sec. Dutee won the gold medal – India’s first in the 100m event at World University Games.
“There was a lot of talk about my personal life in the media before the race. It was a ruckus. Everyone thought India had a great athlete, who is now going to leave the sport and focus on love life. I was going through negative emotions and stress. I had no family support which was why a lot of people were looking down upon me. But I kept my focus on my training,” the 23-year-old told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview.
With the gold, Dutee became only the second Indian after Hima Das to secure a gold for India on the track at a global event. The athlete believes her determination to achieve something big for the country helped her get the better of all the negative vibes brought on by the media focus on her personal life.
“I am passionate to win and achieve something big for the country. It makes me happy that I managed to go past all the struggles, and still win a medal.”
The massive achievement was surprisingly celebrated by her family members as well, who had earlier stepped away from the athlete after she spoke publicly about her relationship.
“I am in Italy. No one in my family uses Whatsapp, so it’s hard to get a message from India. I saw on Facebook that my family members lit a diya for my success. They also distributed sweets after my win. When I go back to India, I will speak to them,” Dutee said.
Growth as an athlete
The most promising aspect of Dutee’s win was her growth as an athlete. It was not long ago, when she had failed to grab a medal at Doha Asian Athletics Championships, as she used up her energy in the heats and semifinals. But in Naples last week, her progression was perfect. She clocked 11.48 in the heats, and followed it up with a time of 11.41 in the semifinals. Then, she recorded her best to clinch the yellow metal.
“Participation in international events has given me a lot of experience. My coaches have also guided me on how to save my energy. I used 85 per cent of my energy in the heats, 95 per cent in semifinals and 100 per cent in the final, which led me to the medal,” she explained her strategy.
The competition was not an easy one. These were some of the best athletes, who were far more taller, and stronger than Dutee. At the start list, Dutee was ranked in the 7th position. She admits she was nervous before the event began.
“Before the start of the race, I was really nervous. Athletes came here from all parts of the world with better personal best scores than mine. But my coach N Ramesh sir told me I have to record my best time, even if the medal eludes us. When I recorded a good time in the semifinal, I noticed I was close to those who were first and second. It relieved some of the nerves,” she said.
Dutee has already left her mark at the Asian level though, winning the silver medal in the 100 metre and 200 metre sprints at last year’s Asian Games and finished with a bronze in the 200 metre event in Doha earlier this year. Dutee’s time of 11.32 sec in the Universiade though was not enough to secure a World Championship berth as the qualification mark for the same was 11.24 seconds. But the athlete believes that the more she gets to participate in global tournaments, the more she will improve. With Tokyo Olympics next year, she’s keeping her eyes fixed on qualifying for the multi-sport event.
“When I participated in Rio Olympics in 2016, I failed to grab a medal. But it was a learning experience. With Tokyo Olympics next year, I am fully immersed in training to prepare for the same. I did not get much support last time which I am getting this year from KIIT University and Odisha state government. If I participate more in overseas competitions, it will improve my Olympic qualification chances,” the sprinter signed off.