Sanatan Pani

It was rare, an unbelievable defeat, and came as a shock to those who had the habit of watching India’s fastest woman Dutee Chand winning gold in her pet 100m event every time she competed in a national championship. The unexpected happened when the Odisha ace settled for a SILVER, losing to Tamil Nadu’s S Dhanalakshmi in the final of the 24th National Federation Cup Senior Athletics Championships in Patiala yesterday.

The last time Dutee did not win a 100m race featuring only Indians was back in the Inter-Railway Championship in Bhopal in August 2015, a month after she ended up with bronze in the National Inter-State Athletics Championships in Chennai. The Patiala defeat has obviously raised questions about the current National record holder’s form and future, including her chances in the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Is this defeat an indication of the start of the downfall of an enigmatic athlete known as Dutee Chand? Will she be able to bounce back and do well in the Olympics?

The answer, of course, lies only with time. But knowing the indomitable athlete from her early days, one can assume that what Dutee lost was only a battle, not a war and she still has a lot in her body and mind to enable her to achieve more laurels for her state and the country.

“Pull me down, I will come back stronger,’’ she once said while taking on failure on the track and criticism off it. However, the Federation Cup defeat can be a wake-up call for the unputdownable sprinter when it comes to doing well in the Tokyo Games.

“Yes, the silver medal has come as a setback. But it was just a bad day in the office and I am not too worried about that. Hurdles will be there, but I know how to overcome them. I am focused on my Tokyo goal and I am working diligently to achieve a dead 11 seconds timing. What I need is people’s faith in me and support from State and Union Governments,” said Dutee from Patiala.

But what went wrong in the 100m final yesterday?

“The start was cancelled twice. First when Hima (Das) made a false start and second for technical reasons. I was in Lane 4 and Hima was in Lane 5. The starting disturbance affected my concentration and I could not be fast enough off the blocks," she explained.

``Moreover, I have been part of almost all the national-level competitions in recent years. On the other hand, Dhanalakshmi did not run as much. She had a fresh body and did well to win the gold,” elaborated Dutee.

“Covid protocols also affected my training. My physio and masseur were not available to keep my body in proper condition. Human body is not a machine. Once idle, it takes time to return to a proper state. My body slowed down due to inaction for a year,” she added.

Though Dutee is yet to meet the Olympics qualifying mark of 11.15s, she is not worried. “Qualifying is not an issue for me, but doing well is a big challenge. The rule of meeting qualifying marks was applied for Rio Olympic 2016. Meanwhile, it has been changed to world rankings. Top 50 rank holders will be eligible to compete in Tokyo and I will be through as my current ranking is 32,” she said with confidence.

[caption id="attachment_496753" align="aligncenter" width="750"]Dutee-Chand-Odisha Sprinter Dutee Chand (File Pic)[/caption]

But when it comes to the prospect of doing well at the Olympic stage, the Odisha star does not seem much confident. In fact, she admits that a couple of factors are disturbing her mental health.

“My plan to train in Europe did not materialize due to visa issues last year before the pandemic. Post pandemic, schedules of international competitions have not been announced. Without a schedule for training and competition abroad, I am unable to prepare a budget and seek funding support from the government,” she explained.

“Secondly, I am mentally disturbed because of foul play by my elder sister Saraswati, who has been defaming me in public. Because of her, I am unable to meet my parents and other members of my family. No matter how much you train and plan, emotional support plays an important role in achieving success,” revealed Dutee.

Over the years Dutee has made Odisha and India proud by virtue of her stupendous achievements as a sprinter. She made history for her fight and victory against the world athletics governing body’s Hyperandrogenism policy. It is a different matter that she often courts controversy, loves to change cars at regular intervals and has been in a same-sex relationship.

What really matters is that she is a unique athlete, who rose from a little-known village of Jajpur district and became world champion. She may have suffered a mini setback in a National meet. But one should not read it as the end of the road. Dutee is a tigress. Beware of the tigress!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)