SPRINTER DUTEE Chand became the first Indian to qualify in the 100 m event of the Olympics after recording a time of 11.30 seconds in the heats at the XXVI International Meeting G Kosanov Memorial in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The Olympic qualification time for the 100 m was 11.32 seconds. She bettered the national record for the second time in a day when she clocked 11.24 seconds in the final later on Saturday to win the silver.
Dutee will be only the second Indian woman sprinter to participate in the Olympics — PT Usha competed in the 100 m and 200 at the 1980 Moscow Games — but the first since qualification standards were introduced at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Indeed just two years ago, it seemed like Dutee’s blossoming career, which began with fun races on the banks of the Brahmani river in Odisha, was all but over.
The daughter of weavers in the village of Chaka Gopalpur, the then 18-year-old had just won two gold medals at the Asian junior athletics championship in Taiwan and was preparing for her maiden Commonwealth Games appearance in Glasgow when her name was struck off the team list.
She was subsequently handed an indefinite ban from competing under the International Association of Athletics Federation’s (IAAF) guidelines that debar athletes with hyperandrogenism — excessive but naturally occurring testosterone — in the women’s category. It was only in July last year, after a landmark legal battle at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), that she won the right to compete again. Now she will run on the greatest stage of all — at the Olympics.
“My coach N. Ramesh told me that this meet in Kazakhstan was my last chance to qualify for the Olympics. ‘If you don’t qualify here forget about going to Rio’ is what he told me. Before the morning heats Ramesh sir told me not to thing of a medal but just qualify for the event. Once I was on track I felt like I would post a good time today. It was a relief when I qualified in the heats,” Dutee said from Almaty. Talking about the final, Dutee said she was able to break the national record again as she was pushed to the limit by Kazakhstan’s Viktoriya Zyabkina who won gold with a timing of 11.15 seconds.
“There was pressure to qualify for the Olympics and I was tense but now as I have qualified my dream has come true. I now hope to enter the final at the Olympic Games,” Dutee added.
Not a surprise
To followers of Indian athletics, Dutee’s qualification would not have come as much of a surprise. Over the last few months, she has been remarkably consistent with her timings. Apart from the 11.33 second mark in Delhi, she has consistently hovered around the 11.5 second mark. She clocked 11.51 seconds at a meet in Taiwan in May and subsequently 11.41 and 11.47 in two races in Kyrgyzstan earlier this week.
However, with only two more events lined up — Kazakhstan and Inter State Senior Athletics Championships — before the cut-off date of July 11, Dutee’s promoters, Anglian Medal Hunt, were also looking at the possibility of pushing for a wild card for the sprinter.
Maneesh Bahuguna, CEO of Anglian Medal Hunt, said: “She deserved a place in the Olympics because earlier she had missed out by just one-hundredth of a second. Plus her timings were consistent. Also we should keep in mind that she missed out on precious time because of her court case in CAS and the one-year ban. We were considering the possibility of petitioning the IOC for a wild card. However, it is a relief now that Dutee has qualified.” For coach Ramesh, the near misses were a matter of concern only because time was running out.
“I was a little cautious. There was reason to be optimistic because she had just missed the qualification standard at the Federation Cup. She kept coming close to the qualification timing but kept missing out. I knew she had it in her to qualify but I also knew she didn’t have a lot of time to qualify. But at the same time this isn’t an exact science and the athlete isn’t a robot. There are so many things that need to come together to get a good time,” he said from Almaty.
Things fell in place this time around though. Dutee had arrived at the Taiwan meet just hours before her race and competed despite exhaustion. It was a similar story at the Kyrgyzstan races, held on June 19. With her Kazakh visa not in place, Dutee faced the prospect of having to fly back to India, collect her visa and subsequently dash back to Almaty for her tournament.
“We were expecting to return just one day ahead of the competition. But our Athletics Federation spoke to the Kazakh Athletics Federation and they arranged for us to get the Kazakhstan visa from Kyrgyzstan itself. So we only had a three-hour drive to Almaty. We could rest and recover for three days before our competition and that made all the difference,” said Ramesh. While Ramesh said the mental tension of having qualified for the Rio Games is over, Dutee’s work is not yet done.
Her coach believes she can do still better. “Knowing what all she has gone through over the last two years, it feels like a miracle that Dutee will even be going to Rio. But we won’t be satisfied with that. Our goal is to get her timing in the 11.11-11.20 second range. It won’t be enough for a medal but it should take her to the semifinals. The Olympics is just the start. Dutee is still very young. She has the whole world in front of her now,” he said.