'It's time to race' - Dutee Chand is ready to take on the elite in Tokyo 2020

The COVID-19 lockdown restrictions had kept Dutee Chand away from the Kalinga Stadium’s running track for nearly six months and when she returned to the track, her speed had dropped.

Dutee Chand in Tokyo ahead of her race at Tokyo 2020.

Dutee Chand has been India’s fastest woman runner for the better part of the last five years. But when she returned to the track in November 2020, she ran the 100m in 20 seconds. “I was so worried! I thought “aise kaise ho gaya (laughs) [how could this happen?].”

For context, her personal best is 11.22s. 

The 25-year-old – India’s only sprinter at the Games – will be in action in the 100m heats on Friday and will be competing against global superstars like Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah and Dina Asher-Smith. 

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The gulf in timings, however, is glaring – Fraser-Pryce recently became the second-fastest woman in history by running the 100m in 10.63 seconds, while Elaine and Dina have personal bests of 10.70 and 10.83s, respectively. 

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The athlete from Chaka Gopalpur in Odisha, though, is unfazed as she has run against all of them at some point in her career. “My preparations have gone well, and I’m fully geared up. It’s time to race,” she said from her room in the athletes’ village. 

India sprinter Dutee Chand practicing at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. | Photo Credit: BISWARANJANROUT

 

The COVID-19 lockdown restrictions had kept her away from the Kalinga Stadium’s running track for nearly six months. She did yoga and some basic training at home during the lockdown, but it was far from enough. 

 

“When I got back to training in November, I could not even complete my warm-up routine! And it felt as if my speed had vanished – my speed was zero. I felt so tired, and the pain was surging through my body. My muscles felt so tight, it was like I had just woken up from a long slumber,” she said. “I struggled for the first month, but I got back to prime fitness in February.”  

The lack of training had left her lighter by six kgs and resulted in a severe dip in muscle mass. “I looked fit, but I had actually lost my muscle mass. My hemoglobin, Vitamin D and Calcium levels were very low. I had to change my diet and eat more food and supplements. I increased my protein intake – ate three-four eggs. I ate a lot of meat and vegetables like broccoli, brinjal and potatoes,” she said. “I don't like beetroot, but the nutritionist said I need to have beetroot juice. I had to force myself to drink it daily.” 

Dutee was in a race against time to punch her ticket to Tokyo and was unable to meet the qualification mark set at 11.15s. She returned to competition at the Indian Grand Prix 1 in February with an 11.51s run. She then registered 11.44s and 11.58s at the Indian Grand Prix 2 and Federation Cup, respectively. The timings were not remotely close to the qualification mark and the pressure was mounting on the Asian Games silver medallist.  

“What was the use in running 11.5s? I needed to prepare my body to run in less than 11.2s. The Athletics Federation of India had warned that if my performance was not good then I won't be able to make it to the Olympics. It was a very stressful period. I had to better my timing to make it to the Olympics and I was running out of events!”

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She came within a whisker of securing an automatic qualification at the Indian Grand Prix 4 in June but fell short by 0.02s. However, that run – a new national record – was enough to help her qualify by virtue of her world ranking.  

“I reduced my timing, and it helped my rankings and sealed my berth at the Olympics. I am a lot more relaxed now,” she said.  

Dutee is currently ranked 41 in the 100m and 50 in the 200m category.