Sprinter Dutee Chand vies for gold at international level now but there have been days when the impoverished village girl would run for lead in Gopalpur, Odisha. “I never thought I would one day compete for gold on the world stage — at school I used to give my all for a pencil that used to be the top prize,” she says on an emotional note.
Quite a few pencils in her rag-tag bag, she would go on to script a story that would catch everyone’s imagination. One of the six children of a weaver couple, Dutee has had to race against the wind. “No track, no facilities, there was nothing called a playground in our village. I used to run along the river bank, lift boulders as part of weight training and pump water from the borewell as an exercise,” recalls the Asian Games 100 and 200 metres silver medallist.
“Forget sports gear, I did not even have proper clothes to wear,” she says. Put that down to abject poverty. “Given the meagre family income, eating thrice a day too was out of question for us. Rice and vegetable at lunch was the only meal we could afford. All those memories come flooding to my mind when I am put up at plush hotels during international championships where I am spoilt for choice at those extensive buffet spreads. Even the bathrooms there are so neat and clean, far better than the mud house I grew up in.”
After a stint in 2012 at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala — where coach Nagapuri Ramesh bore her expenses — Dutee started winning medals at the Youth and Senior Nationals in record times and made it to the Indian team for the 2014 Asian as well as Commonwealth Games when she dealt with another blow. The International Athletics Federation’s (IAAF) rule on hyperandrogenism made her ineligible to compete as a female athlete (her body produces male hormones in excess). After a prolonged legal battle (fought by activist Payoshni Mitra and funded by the central government), the policy on hyperandrogenism was suspended by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland in April this year. Subsequently, the IAAF introduced regulations limiting testosterone levels of female athletes competing over distances between 400m and 1600m, leaving Dutee — who runs the 100 and 200 metres events — out of it.
“People used to ask me why I was running mad, what would I get out of it? I was also subject to insults — some would call me a boy,” the 22-year-old reveals.
It was during this testing period that Dutee moved to Hyderabad to train full time under Ramesh. “I had just `500 on me then,” she chokes. Now, the Odisha government has announced a cash award of `3 crore. More money is bound to stream into her account. “I want to build a proper house for my family, get my sisters married and provide comfort to my parents,” she says.
Coach Ramesh too is startled at his ward’s staggering success. “When I started training her I thought she would become a national champion, which would help her acquire a job in sports quota and provide stability. But there was no stopping Dutee,” he laughs.