There is something joyous about watching Dutee Chand laugh. It’s lyrical almost, and you can tell it’s straight from the heart. “Aap sabhi ko mera pyaar bharaa namaskar", (“my love to all of you") she says, with folded hands, grinning ear to ear after winning her 100m gold at the ongoing National Games in Kerala on Wednesday. It wasn’t her best timing, 11.73s in the final, as opposed to her personal best of 11.63s. But the Odisha girl knows all too well the significance of this win. In the larger scheme of things, it is way more precious than the gold medal she was wearing at the end of the day.

“The weather in Kerala is great, not too hot, not too cold. And our accommodation and food has been taken care of very well. I think that’s why I ran a good race today", the 19-year-old said after her event, as if almost drawing curtains on the last six months of her life, a phase during which she stopped training and was barred from all competitions. That after a test revealed she had, what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) labels as masculine quantities of the hormone androgen. In no sense did it mean that Chand was a man, but the IOC’s current rules state that the extra hormones confer an unfair athletic advantage to those who possess it, and Chand was taken off competing in female events immediately, starting with last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

An interim order from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), cleared her provisionally in December last year to compete domestically, after which she took the Athletics Federation of India to court. With a timing of 12.00s in the Odisha State Championships, Chand made the cut for the National Games in Kerala. “I had gone to the Jagannath Temple in Puri and asked the deity, why have you made me like this. Can’t I be okay? Will I be able to run again? That is the only thing I want to do," she says, remembering the days she spent in Odisha before returning to training.

After the CWG snub, it was in fact the Sports Authority of India (SAI) that came to Chand’s rescue, allowing her to resume training at Patiala’s National Institutute of Sports. Gender consultant and activist Dr Payoshni Mitra, also worked with the teenager, campaigning against the IOC’s androgen ruling. Chand refused to undergo hormonal treatment to reduce androgen levels, which often also involves major surgery and lifelong hormone therapy. With SAI’s help, she took the legal route instead, fighting a case to contest the very basis of IOC’s androgen ruling which many scientists and former athletes have termed as ‘arbitrary’ and ‘discriminatory’ (no such rule exists for male athletes, for example, even though there is a wide variety of androgen levels in male athletes as well).

While training for her return to competition, Chand trained at at the Pullela Gopi Chand Academy in Hyderabad, with Ramesh N, her coach for a year now. “She is a wonder kid, that’s all I can say. Can you imagine how much guts it needed for her to leave her village and make up her mind to want to run again? Most people don’t understand the finer details. All they will say is Dutee is a man, and she was running in a women’s event and winning medals. Can you even imagine what that can do to a child’s morale? Despite that she is running, and is back to fitness. Not a 100% definitely, but she is getting there", he says. “Most athletes I know would have quit."

Chand arrived in Kerala and broke a meet record even before her event. In her heats, Chand clocked 11.83s, bettering the previous mark of 11.84s, set by H.M. Jyothi in the 2011 edition of the games. Before her first competitive event in six months, Chand was calm and focussed. Dressed in a bright pink vest and dark blue shorts, she remained still, and kept looking at the ground even as the remaining six contestants shuffled around, stretched, and warmed up. Her expression changed only when her name was announced for introduction. The steely look was replaced by her signature warm smile and namaste to the the crowd.

Then it began. The only Indian to have participated in the 100m final at the Junior Athletic World Championships, took off the starting blocks and maintained her lead right till the end in one of the most significant races of her fledgling career. “Most runners give their 95% in the first 50m, and that leaves them with no strength for the last 50m. Even I am not so strong. But I am learning. I slowed down for 20m in between, and then picked up my pace again," said Chand, breaking down her race.

In the past few months Chand has learnt not just how to pace out her 100m sprint, but about life. “I am still very young, you know? And I have so much to learn," she says. “I know what happened wasn’t my fault. It was unfair, it was very wrong."

Uncertainty still looms large over Chand’s career. Her case comes up for hearing at CAS between the 23-26th of March, and that will decide if she can compete internationally again. If she is cleared, it will open a new path for athletes across the world who suffer from the same predicament.

Suprita Das is a senior sports correspondent with NDTV.

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