Dutee Chand’s 11.32s run in the 100m final at the World University Games, Napoli earned India its second gold on the track at a global event – Hima Das’s 400m junior Worlds win being the first. The Odisha girl staved off a stiff challenge from Del Ponte (11.33) of Switzerland and Lisa Kwayie of Germany took the third spot with 11.39 seconds on the clock.
The field at the University Games was top-class and the odds were stacked against the Indian sprinter. In the start list, with the season’s best of the runners taken into account, Dutee was a lowly 7th. But Tuesday was her day. The double 2019 Asian Games silver medallist paced her progress to perfection. In the heats, she clocked 11.48, in the semis 11.41 and saved the best for the last.
This victory, in Dutee’s own words, is a very important one coming in the backdrop of events in the last few months.
“It’s an answer to all who doubted me and questioned my focus. Didn’t Virat Kohli fall in love and still perform? If he can, why can’t I? I know there were a lot of people who were writing and saying negative stuff about me and how the timing of me coming out wasn’t ideal. But I couldn’t care less. My focus on my sport has never dwindled and I train as hard as I used to. And by coming out, I feel a huge burden is off my shoulders,” Dutee told The Indian Express.
The reference was to her coming out with the revelation that she was in a same-sex relationship with a girl from her village, and her family turning their back on her.
Ever since the news of Dutee’s gold medal broke, her phone has been buzzing with notifications from her social media applications and messages from friends. But Dutee’s family still hasn’t reached out to her. “Not even a congratulation. Not even a “do well beta”. They feel I have committed a huge crime by coming out. But that’s okay. I have friends to share and talk to. They’ve got my back,” an emotional Dutee shared.
The gold-winning effort was not enough to meet the World Championship qualification mark of 11.24s. But her coach N Ramesh is confident that Dutee will crack it soon. Regular top-level competitions are the only way to hit the mark, he believes.
“Just a few big races on the trot and she will make it for sure. For that, we need to compete abroad and for which the proposal to the Odisha government has already been sent,” said Ramesh.
Earlier, Dutee had the habit of burning out in the heats and semifinals and would end up not having enough in the
tank for the finals. This mistake cost her a medal at the Doha Asian Athletics Championships earlier this year where she clocked 11.26s in the semis. The same effort in the finals would have bagged her a silver but she could only manage 11.44s for a fifth-place finish.
“That’s a problem I have pointed out many times. Dutee would always tell me that she could not control her pace. But now with experience, she is getting better at it. There are certain things that you can learn only during the competition. I’m glad she’s picking up,” said Ramesh.
Dutee’s ecstatic about her latest win. A gold at a global event was a dream she was harbouring. This feat makes the KIIT University law student the first Indian woman to win a gold in a 100m event at the World University Games. Last year, Hima’s junior Worlds medal was a breakthrough moment in Indian athletics and Dutee says she was inspired by the Assam runner’s effort.
“The moment Hima won a world-level gold, I got even more determined. But I am not done yet, I will be satisfied only after winning a medal at the Olympics. I know people would laugh at the prospect of an Indian track athlete bagging a medal at the Games. But it’s been long since I stopped caring about people.”