A winsome 17-year-old who is always smiling, Dutee Chand looks like another teenager. That is, till you see her scintillating performance on the tracks.
She runs like a gazelle and in a country where analogies work best, she is being touted as the next PT Usha.
With a plethora of records under her belt, she has defeated poverty, irregular training and lack of help from the government to reach where she has.
In the recent World Youth Championships at Donetsk in Ukraine, she clocked her career best of 11.62 seconds – a national youth and junior record – in the first round heats for 100-metre dash. Though she finished sixth in the final, her feat has raised expectations.
Dutee has also bagged bronze in 200 metre at Asian Athletics Championship in Pune in July with a timing of 23.82 seconds.
“She is extraordinary. She is the new PT Usha of India,” said N Ramesh, national coach, sprint (women), over telephone from Patiala.
“I am expecting at least two medals, including gold, in 200 metre and 400 metre from her in the Youth Asian Games in Nanjing in China in August.”
Ramesh avers she has it in her to take an individual medal in the Asian Games in Incheon in South Korea and Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2014.
One of the four daughters of a poor weaver couple from Chaka Gopalpur village in Odisha’s Jajpur district, Dutee took up athletics in 2006 emulating elder sister Saraswati Chand. The elder sister is herself an athlete of repute.
“Saraswati is my inspiration. She opened the doors for me and guided me at every stage,” Dutee said.
Women's 200 meters silver and bronze medal winners from Asha Roy (R) and Dutee Chand flash victory signs after their race on the final day of the Asian Athletics Championship 2013 in Pune. (AFP Photo)
Dutee practised in the village for a year after which a talent search picked her to train in a state government-managed sports hostel in Bhubaneswar. Saraswati had by then joined the Odisha police but the family’s income was not sufficient to support two athletes.
As a result, Dutee’s training was quite irregular and she often stayed back home. In 2012, Ramesh who had seen Dutee’s potential, called her to Patiala, partly sponsoring her expenses along with another colleague.
Dutee trained for three months and was then made to run in the National Youth Athletics meet in July. She clocked 11.84 seconds in 100 metre, a new national record, and 24.49 seconds in 200 metres, equalling national record and clinching gold.
Dutee was declared best athlete in National School Games in Lucknow in February 2013, bagging three golds in 100 metre, 200 metre and 400 metre. She was again adjudged best girl athlete in National Youth Athletics in Bangalore in May, winning gold in 100 and 200 metre.
In June, she participated in senior category in National Athletics in Chennai and bagged silver in 200 metre, improving her timing to 24.03 seconds.
Dutee is still to get any monetary support from the Odisha government. Though finance is still a problem, the teenager is least bothered and has set her goal higher.
“I want to be an Olympics medallist,” said Dutee, who has enrolled in KIIT University here this year to study law.
Champions who defeated odds
Mary Kom, boxer
Five-time World Boxing champion, Mary Kom, hails from one of India’s ‘seven sisters’ states, Manipur. Despite coming from a tribal community and initially having no support or sponsors, she surmounted all odds to emerge a true champion.
Coached by Narjit Singh, Magnificent Mary, as she has been nicknamed, began her boxing career at the age of 17 after being inspired by 1998 Asian games gold medallist, Dingko Singh. The only Indian woman boxer to represent India and win a medal at the Olympics, she has been awarded the Padma Shri, Arjuna Award and Padma Bhushan.
Gita and Babita Singh Phogat, wrestlers
Gita Singh Phogat won the first-ever gold medal for India in wrestling at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. She was also the first female wrestler to qualify for the Olympics in London. Sister Babita Singh Phogat won a silver medal at CWG 2010.
Brought up in the male-dominated rural Haryana, they were trained by their father Mahavir Singh Phoghat. With no expensive equipment available, the girls combined traditional techniques of sprinting across fields, performing sit-ups and a diet of fresh buffalo milk and ghee-smeared chappatis to emerge as champion wrestlers.