For her bevy of admirers, Dutee Chand bagging two silver medals at the Jakarta Asian Games was an unforgettable moment. Chand represents the humble, yet ambitious class of Indian athletes where an Olympic or Asian Games medal marks the apotheosis of their career. Yet, if Chand’s case is dissected in isolation, it is a poignant affair and has the makings of a pot-boiler movie script in more ways than one.
The Asian Games marked the debut for the 22-year old Chand. However, reaching there was not a cakewalk though it may have been her pipedream. If fate had her way, Chand could have stormed her way into the prestigious tracks four years back. That was not to happen, as Chand developed signs of hyperandrogenism, characterised by abnormal and elevated levels of testosterone, the male sex hormone. The unusual disorder truncated Chand’s dream run as some queer rules at the International Athletics Association Federation disqualified her from participation. She was in the soup as gender testing and its wide media coverage was too mortifying for the blossoming young athlete. The psychological toll that the sprinter absorbed in those days is too harsh to bear in her age.
Amongst the domestic athletes, Chand was a class apart. This bolt from the blue had nearly wrecked her career when she appeared at the World Championships in 2017. But, by that time, Chand had collected enough courage to contest the Athletics Federation’s unfair ruling at the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS). Luckily, the tribunal ruled in her favour. CAS suspended IAAF’s policy, paving the way for Chand to participate at the global track event. Chand admitted how the shadow of the cases took their toll and drained her focus and balance on the sport. Dutee had jerked out of the event with a sub-par performance.
It was PullelaGopichand who ensured the country did not lose a sublime talent like Chand. In 2015, Gopichand was contacted by his good friend and conditioning coach N Ramesh. CAS had just exculpated the Indian sprinter after the ban by IAAF in 2014. Chand, in those days was despondent, started to feel that her days in athletics were numbered. Her nightmarish experience stated in June 2014 when the Federation summoned her. She faced embarrassing questions on her gender and was peremptorily suspended without any further tests or examination. And, she missed the all importantGlassgow Commonwealth Games. Help to revive her career came pouring in for Chand from the unexpected quarters. While coach Ramesh seized the lead in her rehabilitation efforts, there were three other people whose role was pivotal- PayoshniMitra- doctorate in gender issues in sports, Bruce Kidd, principal with the University of Toronto, Scarborough and James Bunting, a Canadian sports lawyer who fought her case pro bono. The collective efforts pooled by them culminated in the favourable order for Chand from CAS. It was in January 2018 that the IAAF’s regulation of hyperandrogenism was suspended.
Chand’s career was limping back to normalcy. That is when Ramesh called Gopichand, India’s ace badminton player and head national coach. Gopichand with all spontaneity offered his help to Chand. Putting up at the centres of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) was getting tough for her. At that moment, the celebrated badminton star threw ajar the gates of his PullelaGopichand Badminton Foundation. Two years later, in February 2017, Gopichand’s initiatives helped create the KhelUdan Project, a brainchild of SAI, Pullela Gopichand Foundation, Mytrah Foundation and Sports Authority of Telangana. From high-performance coaching under Ramesh to top-notch support, every aspect of the athletes’ training was attended to. Chand still stays at the academy in Hyderabad.
Gopichand was ecstatic after Chand clinched the silver in 100 metres, a feat reprised by an Indian athlete after a hiatus of 20 years. “Today is an extremely happy day for me. What Dutee has achieved should be an inspiration for all athletes and sportspersons. Having gone through the stresses that she has, one can only salute her spirit and determination. I am sure she will be a role model for all who want to achieve against all odds”, he said.
Dutee Chand was born on February 3, 1996 to a weaver couple- Chakradhar Chand and Akhuji Chand in Gopalpur, Odisha. Their family was content with a meagre income of Rs 3000 per month. One of the seven siblings, Dutee was enrolled in KIIT University in 2003 to study law. Her older sibling Saraswati Chand was Dutee’s inspiration to be a sprinter. Saraswati, too was an athlete who later joined the Odisha police in 2005.
In 2012, while she was a tender age of 16, Dutee became a national champion in the under-18 category, when she clocked 11.8 seconds in the 100 metres event. To add to her growing laurels, Chand then was crowned the national champion in 100 metres and 200 metres. She clocked times of 11.73 seconds in the final in 100 metres and a career-best 23.73 seconds in 200 metres at the 2013 National Senior Athletics Championships in RanchHer 11.29 seconds time was enough to clinch the Asian Games selection and after four years of being shunted out of selections, Dutee marched proudly at the opening ceremony of the Asian Games in Indonesia. Seven days later, she stood on the podium of the 100m event. This time, it was with two silver medals around her neck.