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A 60-metre hurdles record-breaking spree by Jyothi Yarraji

Jyothi Yarraji, who won silver at the Asian Indoor Athletics Championships on Sunday, blows competition away after 50 metres in the 100m hurdles, so the shorter race is a challenge because it is the ‘weakest bit of her race’.

Jyothi Yarraji set yet another national record to win a silver at the Asian Indoor Athletics Championships 2023!. (Twitter/Odisha Sports)

Five national records in three weeks and an Asian Indoor Athletics Championships silver medal the cherry on the cake. Hurdler Jyothi Yarraji had never run in an indoor competition till the last week of January.

On Sunday, she clocked 8.13 seconds in the 60 metre hurdles in Astana, Kazakhstan, to rewrite her own mark once again and finish second on the podium.

Jyothi has become synonymous with record-breaking feats.

At 23, she is the 100-metre hurdles national champion. Last year, she broke the national record in the Olympic event four times after being denied thrice earlier.

The first time (in January 2020) she missed out because there was no dope testing at an Inter-University Championships – one of the criteria for ratification – and on two other occasions, first at the Federation Cup and then at the National Games wind speed was above the legally permissible 2 metres per second.

She was heart-broken back then kept persevering and was rewarded.

By the end of last season, she became the first Indian woman to run the 100 metre hurdles in under 13 seconds after first breaking Anuradha Biswal’s two-decade old record in May.

The 60-metre hurdles, a shorter race run indoors, is outside her comfort zone. She eclipsed Gayathri Govindaraj’s seven-year-old record on January 25 at the Aarhus Sprint’n’Jump 2023 athletics meet in Denmark.

From 8.20 to 8.18 to 8.17 to 8.16 to 8.13, Jyothi has been snipping away at records. But the indoor races have been a unique and challenging experience for the rising star.

“Breaking a national record is lovely and it is nice that she has broken all these records. I think it is a testament to her because the 60 metre hurdles is a totally different event compared to the 100 metre hurdles. She has found it difficult and has had to dig deep. It is out of her comfort zone because it is really short (compared to the 100 metre hurdles). So for her to break five records and get a silver in the Asian Indoor Championships is fantastic,” James Hillier, Jyothi’s coach, said.

Athletes built like Jyothi, with long legs and high hips, often find the 60 metre hurdles event challenging.

“The 60 metres suits the shorter athletes because they can get upto speed a lot quicker. They have shorter limbs and they can move the limbs quicker. Jyothi is very high in the hips, she has long legs and it is ever so difficult for her to get moving as quickly as some of the shorter athletes,” Hillier, the athletics director of the Reliance Foundation Athletics Programme, said.

Another disadvantage Jyothi faces in the 60 metre hurdles is the race finishes before the strong phase of her 100 metre hurdles begins.

“If you watch her races (100 metre hurdles), it is very rare that she is leading at the halfway stage. She is very efficient and her tendons store energy very efficiently. And that really comes into play after 50 metres. Some of the other girls who are less efficient, they work very hard in the first half of the race and they just don’t have the energy or the efficiency to finish the race (strongly). So often Jyothi, at the halfway stage, is not in the lead but she comes through very strongly. So effectively (in the 60 metre hurdles) she has had to race these girls at the weakest bit of her race,” Hillier explained.

During Sunday’s final, Jyothi was not in the top-three at the halfway stage but powered through the last two hurdles to finish second to Japan’s Masumi Aoki (8.01 seconds).

Jyothi, who trains at the Odisha Reliance Foundation High Performance Centre in Bhubaneswar, will shift her focus to the 100 metres hurdles with the Asian Games podium finish being a big target. Jyothi saving her best when it mattered the most during the indoor season is a huge takeaway.

“For me she has peaked at the right time. She has got her two fastest timings in the heats and final of the Asian Indoor Championships. It is all about the right performance at the right time.

She delivered under pressure and she has never been at an indoor competition like this before, so we are delighted,” Hillier added.

Jyothi’s schedule has been demanding. She ran eight races in three weeks, travelled through five different countries, including in and out of India, and took 12 flights.

In her first indoor competition in Denmark, she broke the national record in the heats and finished fifth in the final. Then at the Elite Indoor Track Miramas, a World Athletics Indoor Tour Bronze level event, she bettered the record twice with a second-place in the final following a photo-finish.

The record-breaking spree continued at the Asian Indoors — first in the heats and then in the final.

“The indoors is always a stepping stone for the outdoors, we have taken it seriously but it is not something which is career defining. It is very much about the outdoors, the Asian Games particularly is very much one of our goals for the outdoors. We put herself into a situation where she was racing. She got three national records in Europe, which was excellent. Got some really nice races with some very nice athletes,” the coach added.

Jyothi is taking a short break. Three days is what she has asked for, after which she will be back at training. Another outdoor season of trying to better the high standards she has set for herself begins.

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