No biryani, no family time or festivals, and hard work: How Jyothi cracked a 20-year-old record

When Jyothi Yarraji first ran below the 100m hurdles national record timing of 13.38s at the 2020 Inter-University Athletics Championships, her blazing 13.03s run wasn’t ratified as NADA (National Anti-Doping Agency) officials weren’t present at the competition. The Andhra Pradesh athlete brushed it off and returned to clock 13.08s at the Fed Cup in Kozhikode last month. But she was denied a national record again as the wind reading was 2.1 m/s – just 0.1m/s over the permissible level to be considered for World and national marks. This time, Jyothi was distraught and broke down as she met her coach after the race.

On Wednesday, the 22-year-old finally rewrote the 20-year-old national mark set by Anuradha Biswal in 2002 with a 13.23s gold-winning effort at the Cyprus International Meet.

“I didn’t know how to process it (the bad luck earlier). It’s a big thing for me and not many reach here. But I am still not satisfied. I know I am capable of doing much better and am hungry for more,” Jyothi said.

Jyothi has been training under Welsh coach James Hillier, who also trains 200m national record holder Amlan Borgohain, at the Reliance Foundation Odisha Athletics High-Performance Centre in Bhubaneswar since last July. Jyothi is currently training in Tenerife, Spain and will take part in three more events in Europe before returning to India.

Coach Hillier isn’t surprised by Jyothi’s record run and feels it was just a matter of time. Hillier feels the setback last month has only made Jyothi a stronger athlete. “I just told her that the more bad luck you get, the more good luck awaits you. It took her some time to move on. Now that the record is done, she is relieved and can focus on the next target,” he said.

Jyothi with coach James Hillier after her win in Cyprus. (Special arrangement)

Jyothi shares a strong bond with Hillier and his encouraging words helped her bounce back quickly. “I saw him and broke down because he only knows my pain. He only knows how much I had trained. He is like a father figure to me and his advice really helped me,” she says.

Customised coaching

Jyothi was first spotted by Hillier during the 2020 Khelo India Games and was impressed by her smooth running action. But with the pandemic, the whole process of Jyothi moving to Bhubaneswar to train under Hillier took over a year. Till then Hillier studied Jyothi’s running style and prepared a coaching programme tailor-made for her.

“I saw her race videos and analysed them. I was impressed by her elasticity. She has very strong tendons in the ankles, her running style is efficient. And when she joined, I found her to be very receptive to ideas. She has the ability to grasp things quickly and make quick adjustments,” explains coach Hillier.

Jyothi was first spotted by Hillier during the 2020 Khelo India Games. (Special arrangement)

When Jyothi joined the centre, she realised that she would not only have to make changes to her technique but also her eating habits. The wiry-framed runner had to give up junk food – fried chicken and pizzas mainly. But the biggest and toughest sacrifice on the food front was biryani.

“Oh, I love Hyderabadi biryani. I used to have it at least twice a week, but now I have to keep a check on it. I do crave KFC and pizza but I have to really control my diet to perform at the optimal level,” says Jyothi.

Her discipline and commitment to training are second to none. She won’t be rewarding herself with a cheat meal any time soon despite breaking the two-decade-old national mark. “I can’t. I still have three more competitions left this month,” she says.

Jyothi doesn’t mind the diet restrictions but admits that at times the sacrifices she has to make for her sport can be a tough cross to bear. “My own brother is getting married later this month in Andhra Pradesh and I can’t be there. My only brother… I have hardly attended any family functions, haven’t been home on festivals and I miss going out like my friends. Right now, I am just working hard and know I will reap the fruits soon,” she adds.

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