On the athletics track, she is her fiercest rival but off it Srabani Nanda is not only like a ‘big sister’ but one who has inspired statemate Dutee Chand to take up the sprint events as the Odisha duo now reign supreme at national level.
Dutee, who has now become the face of women’s fight against ‘injustice’ in sport after winning a landmark gender case, held the 800m national record at junior level before making the switch to 100/200m under the tutelage of Srabani’s childhood coach Nilambadhab Deo.
“I really respect Srabani ‘Apa’ (sister) a lot, she has inspired many Odia athletes including me after Rachita Mistri (100m national record holder),” Dutee, who finished on top ahead of Srabani in both 100 and 200m races before both helping Railways win the 4x100m relay at the recently concluded 55th National Open Athletics Championship, told PTI.
“I was staying in the same sports hostel in Bhubaneswar and all of us (junior athletes) would hold her (Srabani) in high respect.
“It was one fine morning in in 2008-09 Deo sir told me ‘I’d be better off in sprint’. I gradually came under his tutelage,” Dutee recalled, as she went on to become 100m national junior champion in 2012.
But, Dutee admits that relationship with Srabani began to “strain” when she graduated to the senior level and went to pip her to the second place at the 2013 National Inter-State Senior Athletics Championship in Chennai.
“Srabani ‘Apa’ stopped talking to me and so did her coach and it really hurt my feelings. Things changed, I moved under the wings of Nagapuri Ramesh sir,” the 19-year-old Dutee remembers.
It became worse, after Srabani was sent abroad for a three-month training in Australia and Dutee vented her ire in the media.
Clarifying that her foreign training stint was sponsored by Mittal Charitable Trust, the 24-year-old Srabani said: “I owed it to them (Mittal). As for Dutee, we’re always friends and in fact her sister (Saraswati Chand) was my senior at hostel. We are fine.”
“It’s a healthy rivalry, something that is limited to track only, it’s about making Odisha proud,” Srabani, a Commonwealth Games bronze medalist in the 4x100m relay, said.
Hailing from Phulbani, Srabani inherited athletics from her family as her sister was a district level sprinter as she came to the limelight after winning a sprint double at the Junior Nationals in 2008.
At senior level, her first 100m medal was a silver in the 2010 National Inter-State in Ranchi and later she finished fourth in Federation Cup in Patiala to become a member of the quartet for the Commonwealth Games relay team.
Srabani did a sprint double in in the Federation Cup at Mangaluru this year, where she was the best woman athlete and capped it in July with another double (100m and 4x100m relay) in the National Inter-State Senior Championship in Chennai.
Srabani has a personal best of 11.48 and 23.54 in 100m and 200m sprints, while Dutee has 11.62 and 23.57 respectively as the duo are now united in the common target of making Rio Olympics cut in 200m.
“Every athlete dreams to compete in Olympics and I’m no different. The goal is now to achieve 23.20 in 200m, which seems more realistic,” Srabani, who is heading to the national camp in Patiala said.
For Dutee, who won a golden treble in the National Open here, she will spend a week with her family at home.
“I’m going home after about seven months. I will visit Lord Jagannath in Puri and ‘Maa Tarini’ in Ghatgaon,” Dutee signed off.