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Alone in a crowd, athlete Dutee Chand fears falling into the ‘trap’

Two years ago, Dutee Chand's dreams of representing her country at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games came crashing when an indefinite ban was imposed on her.

Dutee Chand, Chand ban, Chand India, Dutee Chand India, Dutee record, Commonwealth games, Asian Games, sports news, sports Dutee Chand returned to competitions last year and broke the national record in 100m dash recently.(Source: AP)

In less than two years, Dutee Chand may have gone from being an outcast to an integral part of the national athletics team. But she hasn’t felt more like an outsider before.

From the food she eats to water she drinks, Dutee keeps a close watch on everything. The 20-year-old does not know where, and how, she might get ‘trapped’ again. If she thought her return to the squad would be smooth, the constant fear and paranoia is making the comeback rather difficult even as she chases an Olympic berth in individual and team events.

At the National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Patiala, Dutee cuts a lonely figure. Quartermiler MR Poovamma is the only athlete she talks to, confides in. “There are some athletes who don’t like me. So I prefer to train alone in Hyderabad. I know I have to train with the rest in Patiala because I am a part of the national team,” she says. “But I am not able to trust anyone. I am scared that I might get trapped again. Woh dar reh gaya hai,” she adds, before reiterating, “I hardly have any friends here.”

Hyderabad felt like home. A smile flashes across her face at the mere mention of Pullela Gopichand’s academy, where she stayed, and coach N Ramesh, who she claims guided her through the ‘toughest phase of her life’ when she dragged the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) over their hyperandrogenism rules to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and won the landmark case. When she was not allowed to compete, Hyderabad became her shelter. “I have a lot of friends there; many. There was Ramesh sir, whom I could blindly trust. Look, I was their responsibility there. But that place felt like home,” she says. “In fact, training there motivated me to compete in the 100m and aim for an Olympic berth.”

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Rio calling

She nearly did last month. At the Federation Cup in Delhi, Dutee broke the 16-year-old national record of 11.38 seconds. Her timing of 11.33 seconds, though, was not enough for her to make the cut for Rio Olympics, missing by one-hundredth of a second. After the ‘toughest’ race of her career, she had run the fastest one. It wasn’t a one-off. In February, at the Asian Indoors in Doha, she set a national record in 60m, clocking 7.28 seconds. She also became the first Indian woman athlete to qualify for the World Indoor Meet in Portland in March, where she reached the semifinals of the 60m.

Yet, when it came to getting foreign exposure, Dutee feels she has received a raw deal. She says her request to the sports ministry and the Athletics Federation of India to send her abroad for training wasn’t approved as they didn’t have ‘faith’ in her. “When I asked them to send me abroad for training, they didn’t have faith on me. Instead, they sent 4x400m relay team to Turkey and now to Poland. But one who is doing well in individual event is not being sent. But I tried on my own and did well,” Dutee says on the sidelines of GAIL Indian Speedstar event.

‘Government apathy’

She applied under the government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS). But that too did not work out when she needed it. Only when she set the national record last month did they take her seriously. But it’s already too late. Starting this month, she will take part in three back-to-back tournaments in China, Taipei and Kazakhstan hoping to make the Olympic cut. In June, there is the inter-state championship in Hyderabad. “So technically, I will have just a month before the Olympics to prepare. I got the letter for TOPS only now when there is hardly any time left. I could have improved further if I were sent aboard for training,” she says.

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Lack of competition in India has hampered her training, Dutee says, insisting that with more ‘fighters’ around, she would have been able to clock a better timing. Her target is 10.99 seconds but she concedes it might not be a realistic one, especially since she is also training for the 4x100m relay. “My individual training is sacrificed a bit but relay is for the country. We are clocking good time there so hopefully, I will qualify in both the events,” she says.

 

First published on: 12-05-2016 at 00:51 IST
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