At one corner of the practice track Dutee Chand, away from the spotlight, began warming-up for her first national-level competition in over six months. In late December, Dutee had participated in the selection trials — Orissa State Championship — to qualify for the National Games. Her timings of 12.10 seconds in the 100 and 25.6 in the 200 were way off her personal bests. But Dutee had not trained for nearly six months, a period during which she was gripped with anxiety, before the state trials.
Uncertainty has followed Dutee like a shadow since she tested positive for hyper-androgenism ahead of the Commonwealth Games last year. Subsequently dropped from the Glasgow squad and barred from participating in the female category, Dutee, the daughter of weavers from Jajpur in Orissa, came face-to-face with the reality that she may not be able to run ever again.
An appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) provided her ‘provisional relief’ and she was allowed to participate in national-level competitions. “I am hoping to win a medal at the National Games. I will be participating in the 100 and the 200. I am glad that I am able to run at a national competition but I still feel the hurt of missing the Commonwealth Games. I try to forget whatever happened but I know I will have to confront reality again,” Dutee says.
The 19-year-old still faces an uncertain future because her case against the Athletics Federation of India will come up for hearing at CAS from March 23 to 26. “It has not been easy for me to train because I know that my case will be heard at CAS in March. There are days when I wonder if I will be allowed to run in the future. It is a constant source of worry, but when I am running a race, for those brief few minutes, I forget everything. That is why I am looking forward to competing in the National Games. If I can win a medal here, it will provide me with a lot of confidence. After all that has happened, it will be a relief for me,” Dutee says.
Over the past four weeks, Dutee has been based at the Gopichand Badminton Academy in Gachibowli in order to train with her coach N Ramesh, who is now attached with the Sports Authority of India in Hyderabad.
“I would say she is at about 90 per cent. It takes time to come back to peak form after missing training for so many months. For Dutee, the setback was also psychological, so we have had to not only work on trying to get her back to peak fitness, but also keep her mentally strong and positive,” Ramesh says.
While Dutee has one eye on the CAS hearing — she will be flying to Lausanne on March 19 — she hopes that if she wins a medal at the National Games, it will be accepted with a sense of appreciation, rather than being subjected to quizzical scrutiny.
“I know I am still fast and can go faster. I may not win gold but that does not mean I have regressed. Tell me which other athlete will go through what I have and still be able to smile. If they allow me to continue running, I know I can be the best.”
Jaisha breaks record
OP Jaisha, the Asian Games bronze medallist in the 1,500 metres, proved that she has successfully graduated to the 5,000 when she outclassed a field comprising Kavita Raut, Preeja Sreedharan, both winners at previous Asiads, to win the gold with a new meet record. Jaisha led from start to finish and clocked 15:31.37 seconds. Lalita Babar, who came third at the Incheon Games in the 3000m steeple chase, was on Jaisha’s shoulder with a kilometre to go but she faded once Jaisha shifted into overdrive in the latter part of the race. In the men’s 5000m, G Laxshman bettered the meet record with a timing of 13:50.05. Sahana Kumari won the gold in the women’s high jump by sailing over 1.80 metres.
Results (all finals): High jump (women): Sahana Kumari (Karnataka) 1.80m, 2. Mallika Mondal (Madhya Pradesh) 1.73m, 2. Swapna Barman (West Bengal) 1.73m (no bronze awarded); 5000M (men) 1. G Laxshman (Services) 13:50.05; 2. Yunus Mohammad (Maharashtra) 14:13.56, 3. Man Singh (Services) 14:15.14; 5000M (women) 1.OP Jaisha (Kerala) 15:31.37, 2. Lalita Babar (Maharashtra) 15:46.73, 3. Swati Gadhave (Maharashtra) 16:26.06.