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At the end of long journey, Dutee Chand’s 100-m record burst

Equally impressive was that Chand was just a whisker away from becoming the first Indian woman to qualify for the 100 metres at the Olympic Games.

Written by Nihal Koshie | New Delhi |
Updated: April 29, 2016 3:50:49 pm
Dutee Chand, sprinter dutee chand, rio olympics, india olympics, dutee chand sprinter, india sprinter dutee chand, sports news, india news At the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Thursday. (Source: Express photo by Oinam Anand)

India’s livewire sprinter Dutee Chand came within one-hundredth of a second of qualifying for the Olympic Games on the first day of the 20th Federation Cup National Athletics Championships at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

On Thursday, Chand led the women’s 100-metre final from start to finish and her timing of 11.33 seconds was just outside the 11.32 qualifying standard for the Rio Olympics. In the process, she also broke the 16-year-old national record, which was previously held by Rachita Mistry with 11.38 seconds.

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Equally impressive was that Chand was just a whisker away from becoming the first Indian woman to qualify for the 100 metres at the Olympic Games since Qualifying Standards were introduced two decades ago. Indians last competed in the in the sprint events at the Olympics in the 1980 Moscow Games (P T Usha and Adille Sumariwalla).

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And to think that just two years ago, even the thought of sprinting down this track had seemed difficult for Chand. That was after she was banned from competing under the International Association of Athletics Federation’s (IAAF) guidelines that debar athletes with hyperandrogenism — excessive but naturally occurring testosterone — from competing in the female category.

Chand would frequently visit the Sports Authority of India (SAI) office around the corner as she prepared to challenge the ban at the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). And from those large glass panes, she could see the stadium, wondering if she would ever be able to run again.

Today, she shrugged off the so-near-yet-so-far qualifying timing of 11.33, knowing that there were more chances to qualify this season.

”I came into this meet with the confidence that I could beat the national record and qualify for the Olympics. I am disappointed that I missed out on bagging a Rio berth but the fact that I was so close only means that I am progressing in the right direction. It is during moments like these that I feel that whatever battles I have had to fight have been worth it,” said Chand.

However, the comeback was far from smooth. For, just a few months ago, murmurs around her eligibility to compete resurfaced.

A vernacular newspaper in Odisha published a report about the possibility of her not being able to compete in the Olympics because the hyperandrogenism rules could be back in place before the Rio Games, following a meeting between the IOC and IAAF on the issue.

The report wasn’t accurate and the conclusion was premature. But it affected Chand, the daughter of a weaver couple from Chaka Gopalpur village. Even the thought of not being allowed to step on the track again was painful for Chand, her coach N Ramesh recalls.

”That day after the report appeared, she received a few phone calls, including from back home. People wanted to know if there was any possibility that she would be stopped from competing again. During training, I noticed that she was sombre that day. Thankfully, the news was false and Dutee realised her Rio Olympics dream was still alive,” said Ramesh.

In today’s final, Chand was up against her state-mate and No.1 rival in sprints Srabani Nanda. They have pushed each other over the past year but today Chand was head and shoulders above anyone else. In fact, she could have been faster if she had been pushed harder by her rivals in the last 20 metres — Nanda ended second at 11.45 and Jyothi H M followed with 11.46.

What helped Chand run faster than any other Indian woman ever was her new-found love for the 60 metre dash, an indoor event in which she recently won the bronze at the Asian level. In the heats of the Asian Indoors, Chand even set a meet record. At the World Indoors, she reached the semi-finals.

”The 60-metre race requires a tremendous burst of speed. And Dutee has that natural high frequency of stride and speed. It was exceptional that after training for just six weeks she won a medal at the Asian Indoors and reached the semifinals of the world indoors. At Portland, she ran against Daphne Schippers, the 200 metre world champion. Competing against the best in the world has helped her improve immensely and attaining the Rio qualifying standard is only a question of when and not if,” said Ramesh.

Two days from now, Chand will be hoping to line up for the final of the women’s 200 metres. The Rio Qualifying standard is 23.20 seconds. Chand’s personal best is 23.43 seconds. Before today’s race, her best ever in the 100 was 11.63 seconds.

And if Chand can maintain this form during the longer sprint, she will remember her visits to Delhi for her exploits on the track rather than the hours spent in an office trying to sort out legal documents.

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