Track and field athlete Dutee Chand became the first Indian sprinter to win a 100m gold on Wednesday, July 10, at the World Universiade in Napoli, Italy.
This is yet another historic accomplishment for the national record (11.24 seconds) holder who won a silver each in 100m and 200m during the 2018 Asian Games.
Chand is the first sprinter to qualify for the finals and only the second Indian track and field athlete to win a gold in the World Universiade, following in the footsteps of shot-putter Inderjeet Singh who clinched the top spot in the 2015 edition.
Chand is also the second Indian sprinter to win a gold at a global event, after Assam’s Hima Das clinched a historic victory in the 400m category at the World Junior Athletics Championship last year.
Dutee at Universiade
The 23-year-old from Odisha’s Chaka Gopalpur village clocked 11.32 seconds on Wednesday to win gold in the international multi-sports meet organised for university athletes by the International University Sports Federation. She is a student at Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, a deemed university in Bhubaneswar.
On Wednesday, Chand led the eight-woman race from start to finish.
She was the first to get off the starting blocks, making the most of this head start to thwart a late but close challenge from Switzerland’s Del Ponte who finished at 11.33 seconds.
Chand sped ahead in the global event, leaving Ponte and Lisa KwaYie of Germany to claim the second and third spots, respectively.
She qualified for the finals on Tuesday, clocking 11.41 seconds, after advancing to the semifinals from the heats with a time of 11.58 seconds.
She had failed to qualify for the semifinals in the previous edition of the World University Games in Taipei City in 2017, where Sanjivani Jadhav had won a silver in women’s 10,000m race.
Chand tweeted, “With years of hardwork and your blessings, I have yet again broken the record by winning the Gold in 100m dash in 11.32 seconds at The World University Games, Napoli.”
“Pull me down, I will come back stronger,” she added, after being felicitated in Napoli, a reference aimed at her family who have been unsupportive of her personal choices of late.
Her parents and sister did tell reporters they are proud of her after the latest win but remain opposed to her coming out as a bisexual woman in a relationship with her longtime partner.
“The gold medal is my reply to them and all my critics that I can manage both my personal life with my chosen partner and the athletics career. I don’t need their advice. I am mature enough to make my own decision. This medal should silence all who have been talking rubbish about me, my existence, and choice of soulmate,” she told The Times of India later.
A befitting reply to critics
Chand is no stranger to controversies over identity politics, with her gender and sexual orientation called repeatedly into questioning.
In 2015, she made international headlines for refusing to take hormone blockers and remained steadfast in her decision, forcing sports associations to review their policies concerning hyperandrogenic women, perhaps for the first time.
But the international athletics body’s draconian law had had a damning impact on Chand’s career back then, dashing her dreams of representing the country at the 2014 Commonwealth and Asian Games. She sued them and won after the court of arbitration (CAS) ruled that she cannot be banned from participating on the basis of heightened testosterone.
Earlier this year, South African track star Caster Semenya also found herself in a similar controversy over her T-levels.
Recently in May, she publicly identified as bisexual and acknowledged being in a relationship with a woman, immediately drawing the ire of the conservative society in Gopalpur. Her mother and sister were especially critical of her choices, expelling her from the family if she didn’t give up her “immoral” ways.
“The last few years have been quite painful for me, where my existence as a normal human being was questioned time and again. When I overcame that difficulty, people made a hue and cry about my same-sex relationship. I want to tell the world that I am in a happy space, and no one would be happier than my partner back in Odisha. Ever since she has come in my life, I have been winning medals all around. She prayed for my win, and her prayer has been fulfilled,” Chand told TOI.
Chand has a season-best of 11.26 seconds in 100m, recorded in the Doha Asian Championships in April. She is yet to qualify for the World Championships to be held in Doha in September-October.
Praise pours in
Congratulations have been pouring in from all quarters. President Ram Nath Kovind tweeted, “Congratulations @DuteeChand for winning the 100m sprint at the Universiade, the World University Games, in Naples. This is India’s first such gold and a moment of immense pride for our country. Please keep up the effort, and look to greater glory at the Olympics.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, was full of praise. “Exceptional achievement of an exceptional athlete! Congratulations @DuteeChand for winning a hard earned and well deserved gold …You make India proud,” he tweeted.
Bollywood stars, including Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar, gushed about Chand, whose victory came on the fateful day of India’s campaign at the ICC World Cup 2019 ending. Virat Kohli and his men were knocked out after losing to New Zealand in the semifinal on Wednesday.
Her Universiade gold is yet another instance of brilliance in women’s sports and athletics in India, which often get overshadowed by men’s leagues and popular sports.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius