The scars of 2014 are fresh. In every single media interaction India's ace sprinter Dutee Chand has done since, there is the inevitable reference to those tough days when questions were raised about her gender, her hyperandrogenism .
She doesn't run away from such questions. "Life should go on and I forget everything when I am on the track. I am born to run and my only goal is to bring laurels for India," Dutee told Sportstar, getting ready for her Asian Games debut.
For someone who loves running and competing, being told she could not was a nightmare. The diminutive Odisha athlete ran straight into a fight at the Court of Arbitration for Sport and won her right to run.
Her story will forever be a compelling journey of wins on and off the track. Dutee recently bettered her own 100m national mark of 11.30s by clocking 11.29s in the 58th National Inter State Senior Athletics Championships at Guwahati.
She breezed past the Asian Games qualifying mark of 11.67s. She is hard at work to take on the best of Asia. She was similarly primed to go up against global stars at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 before being forced to miss it because of a failed "gender test".
"I wasn't in right frame of mind after what happened in 2014. I just couldn't focus and the constant chatter regarding my gender didn't help either. "All of a sudden, from a female, I was called a male. I was removed from the track and I couldn’t even take a stroll in my neighbourhood. It was something that shook me. The worst part was people jumped to conclusions without understanding what the actual issue was," she said.
"Missing out on the 2014 Commonwealth Games still hurts, but that is in the past."
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The process of moving on hasn't been easy. "Thankfully, I got a lot of support from my coach (Nagapuri Ramesh) and we started afresh. Truth finally won. I had set a goal to better my own record and achieved it. Now my goal is to do well in Asian Games," she said.
Dutee has shifted her base from Bhubaneswar to the Pullela Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad for training. "Athletes definitely get home advantage training in their own state, but the facilities are not that great in Odisha, so I had to shift my base. Moreover, there are no coaches to train senior athletes in Odisha.
"Odisha has produced medal-winning athletes but, unfortunately, there is no improvement in the training aspect. There is a shortage of fitness equipment for runners and if you are representing India, you need to train at a certain standard to win medals," she said.
"Here in Hyderabad, the facilities are good. Moreover, my coach too is here. Overall, I am satisfied with my training," she added.
Dutee has also made some changes to her training regime.She has split her training into three sessions — track work from 6am to 10am, swimming for an hour from 11am, and gym workout from 3pm. "I swim as it helps me recuperate. Most importantly, I stick to my diet chart," she said.
The national record holder misses home. "I do miss being with my family, but I am here with a purpose. My family's support is there and my aim is to do well not just in the Asian Games but also going ahead. I am 22 and have got at least another five years. By the time I hang up my spikes, there should be no regrets."
Dutee will also participate in the 200m in the Asian Games. Current 400m sensation Hima Das , who became the first Indian to clinch a track gold medal at the IAAF World U20 Championships, will also compete in the event.
"It will be a healthy competition, but my prime focus is 100m. I do the 200m, but I will be happy if Hima clinches gold."
The track at Jakarta will be different. "Acclimatisation is important but I should be fine. In India, we run on synthetic tracks but in foreign countries, it's the mondo track. I have the experience and mondo tracks will help you gain a little more speed than synthetic tracks.
"While running on a synthetic track, we need to use more strength but on a mondo track, since it is much harder, running will be smooth and there will be assistance from the track. It will be a fresh track and I am extremely motivated to do well," she said. "A medal in Jakarta might not change people's perception, but will heal my scars a little bit."
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