National Record, Gold Medals, Personal Bests – Athletes from Reliance Foundation Odisha HPC shine at Federation Cup
Three of the ten athletes from the HPC that participated at the meet returned with Gold medals, while another won a silver.
Athletes from the Reliance Foundation Odisha Athletics High Performance Centre (HPC), based at the Kalinga stadium in Bhubaneswar, gave further evidence of their exceptional progress at the Federation Cup in Calicut, Kerala earlier this week. Three of the ten athletes from the HPC that participated at the meet – Amlan Borgohain, Jyothi Yarraji and Siddhanth Thingalaya returned with Gold medals, while another, Moumita Mondal won a silver.
Several other athletes from the HPC recorded Personal Bests (PBs) and a couple narrowly missed out on medals, giving Head Coach James Hillier plenty of reason to be proud of his wards, while ruing the missed opportunities that could have delivered a higher medal count.
"It's hard for me to say I'm satisfied because as a coach you always want more," said Hillier. "We had some exceptional individual performances at the competition but as a whole, we actually had some pretty rotten luck. We had a number of fourth places which could easily have been bronzes and Jyothi's performance to not be officially credited with a national record due to being very slightly wind-aided was extremely tough for us to take. However, luck equalises out over a season and a career and I'm sure we'll be more fortunate in other events."
Amlan Borgohain creates a new National Record
Among the Gold medal winners, Borgohain produced a sizzling sprint to erase the national record of 20.63 seconds by winning the 200 metres in 20.52 seconds. The 23-year old, who made the athletics community in India sit up and take notice with his Gold medal at the Open Nationals in Warangal last year, was unperturbed by the pouring rain, leading from gun to tape to overpower the field.
This standout performance also ensured Borgohain has cleared the cutoff mark to qualify for the World University Games and the Asian Games later this year. Over the course of the season, Borgohain has improved his PBs significantly from 20.94 to 20.92 and now 20.52 seconds, making him one of the most improved athletes on the national circuit.
"This effort shows that the specific training he has been doing since the Open Nationals last year race is bearing fruits," says Hillier.
"At Calicut, Amlan executed his race plan almost perfectly - something we have been meticulously working on. I worked out that from a detailed technical analysis that his old PB race in Warangal (20.75) could be improved by around 2 metres, which equates to two tenths of a second, by setting his race up better and executing a better first half of the race. So we worked tirelessly on this in training and I was so pleased to see him delivering on his process goals and ultimately getting a huge PB and national record."
Wind breaks Jyothi Yarraji's heart
While Borgohain celebrated his national record, Yarraji was in tears at the completion of her race, despite clinching Gold in the 100m hurdles. Her timing of 13.09 seconds obliterated the existing national record of 13.38 seconds, set by Anuradha Biswal in 2002. However, since there was a tail-wind of 2.1 m/s, marginally above the permitted limit, the 22-year old was denied the mark.
While Yarraji's misfortune was deeply disappointing, the blow was cushioned to an extent as Mondal, who is also Yarraji's training partner, claimed silver in the same event with a timing of 13.78 seconds, making it a remarkable 1-2 for HPC athletes.
"It was a truly dominant performance and surely only a matter of time before Jyothi officially breaks this record again," says a confident Hillier. "Jyothi came to us in July last year extremely low on confidence, injured and extremely unfit. Gradually, I needed to instill confidence in her and build up her speed, strength and training consistency. She really trusted the process and had full faith in myself and the rest of the support staff. By working on improving 'one step at a time' we helped turn her into the world class athlete she is now becoming."
Veteran Thingalaya strikes Gold
Thingalaya, who at 31 is one of the veterans of the national circuit, returned to competition after two and half years to dominate the 110m hurdles. He won his heat in 14.20 seconds and the final in 14.08 seconds. Thingalaya's immediate target is the National Inter State Competition, where he would aim to break the 14 second barrier.
In the same category, Graceson Jeeva was among the agonising near misses at the meet, running a PB of 14.67 seconds to finish fourth. At just 19, Hillier has identified Jeeva as a bright prospect for the future and expects him to perform strongly at the Junior Federation Cup in Guwahati in June that will also serve as the trial for the World Junior Athletics Championships in Colombia in August.
High Jumper Swadhin Majhi also returned with a PB of 2.10 metres to finish fifth, despite battling with a bruised heel that restricted his training severely over the last month. 3000m Steeplechaser Susmita Tiga, the newest addition to the HPC, ran her second PB in two races this season after finishing third at the recent Indian Grand Prix. Her timing of 11.23.10 to finish close to the medals in fourth place is a huge improvement on her 2021 PB of 11.57.24.
Another athlete to narrowly miss out on a bronze was Pragyan Sahu in the 400m hurdles while Long Jumpers Sabita Toppo, by the far the youngest athlete in the field at just 16 and Manisha Merel, expectedly finished outside the medals as this competition was meant to provide them experience and exposure at the top level.
"Nothing I saw from any of our amazing performances was a fluke," says Hillier.
"Everything was trained for and meticulously planned. The goal of the athlete always being to execute that plan as best as possible. They all had technical goals and cues to work on. We have put together a really great performance team that all understand the periodical planning that we do. They all add value to the work I do and without them, their expertise and their energy I'm sure we wouldn't have been as successful."
Strong show from Endurance Camp athletes
Besides athletes from the HPC, the Federation Cup also witnessed strong performances from athletes that were part of the Reliance Foundation Endurance camp, organised in Coonoor and Ooty from October to January to provide access to top class coaching, sports science and technical input for 11 middle and long distance elite athletes.
Mohammad Afsal P missed the Gold medal by a mere two-hundredth of a second in the 800m, securing a timing of 1:47:45. Debutant Sawan Barwal took the Silver in the 10000m with a timing of 29.21.29, overcoming several experienced runners in the category for his first ever national level medal. He finished a creditable fourth in the 5000m with a timing of 13.50.01, but heartbreakingly missed the Asian Games qualification mark narrowly, despite shaving off 39 seconds from his previous PB.
In an encouraging outcome, 2018 Asian Games Gold Medallist Jinson Johnson, who is supported by the Reliance Foundation Elite Athlete support programme and is on the comeback trail from injury after two and half years, won bronze in the 1500m by clocking 3:43.48 in a tactical race. The 31-year old aims to peak at the inter-state championships in June.
Several athletes from the HPC will now head to Europe for training and competition over the next few weeks to build on their success at the Federation Cup. The HPC, set up in 2019 as a collaborative effort between the Odisha Government and Reliance Foundation, has aspirations of being among the best in Asia in a few years.
43-year old Hillier is convinced the centre is fast becoming the model for other academies in the country to follow, and the success of the athletes at the Federation Cup and other recent competitions, is validation that the formula put in place over the last three years is starting to bear fruit.
"It is a long ball game," he insists. "We have built up an environment where I believe athletes can excel and I'm really pleased to see everyone improving."