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Bhubaneswar(Kalinga Voice) : After an impressive performance at the Junior Federation Cup in Sangrur, Punjab earlier this month, 110m hurdler Graceson Jeeva, who trains at the Reliance Foundation Odisha Athletics High Performance Centre (HPC) in Bhubaneswar, is in contention for a spot in the Indian team for the World Athletics U-20 championships in Kenya later this month. 18-year old Jeeva won a silver at the meet with a Personal Best (PB) timing of 14.14 seconds, finishing behind Maharashtra’s Tejas Ashok. Earlier, Jeeva had registered another PB of 14.17 in the semi-final, giving James Hillier, Head Coach, Reliance Foundation Odisha Athletics HPC, reason to be pleased with his ward’s impressive progress.

17-year old Aryan Ekka was the other standout performer from among the four athletes from the HPC who travelled to Sangrur for the meet. Although Ekka didn’t return with a medal, he improved his PB in the 200m in each of the three races he competed in, clocking 22.39 seconds in his Round one win, 22.25 seconds in his second place finish in the semi-final and 22.12 seconds in the final, where he finished sixth behind more experienced athletes. As Ekka will still be eligible to compete in junior competitions next year, Hillier is convinced he too will deliver on his immense potential.

“Graceson has improved by over a second (which equates to roughly a distance of 10 metres) in the short time he has been at the HPC,” Hillier said. “His progress has been startling and were very proud that he is able to excel positively in the training environment we have created here. Aryan has also improved by a similar margin in the 200m since joining us.  He also competes in the 400m, so we will see which event he has the most potential moving forward.” 

With the availability of competitions still limited due to travel restrictions in place in line with Covid-19 guidelines, athletes at the HPC have been participating in a series of “Performance Graded Races”, a novel concept Hillier introduced last year that follows an open graded structure, where athletes are seeded based on personal bests irrespective of their age or sex. Over the four competition series held last year, restricted only to athletes from the HPC, as many as 100 PBs were registered, endorsing Hillier’s vision that the unique nature of the concept allows the athletes to perform at their best and deliver strong outcomes. Accurate timings are made available with an electronic system as well as photo finish in use for the competition.

The Performance Graded Races are designed to ensure optimal conditions are provided to athletes to achieve their best possible results. For instance, for all short sprints and hurdle races, it is ensured that athletes run with the wind. In the middle distance races, pace makers are used to help the athletes with the timings of the pace makers advertised at the start of the race. As an example, athletes wanting to run 2.00 minutes for the 800 metres, are taken through the first lap in 57-58 seconds, thereby ensuring they deliver performances as per their potential and gain confidence for competitions that lie ahead.

“Our athletes are now in the competition preparation phase of the year,” explains Hillier.  “So, we are now building on all of the qualities such as speed, strength, endurance and co-ordination that have been developed during the off-season. Training is now very specific and is high intensity in nature. Our goal is always to be the best prepared athletes in the big competitions we enter.  Therefore we are always thinking about competitions and peaking at the right time in our training.” 

“The remainder of the season looks bright,” he added.  “We will be targeting the Under-20 Nationals with these athletes, although the date hasn’t yet been confirmed. I believe all of our athletes will benefit from this competition and getting experience like this is vital to an athletes development.”

Currently 29 athletes are training at the HPC, that has the stated objective to be among the best of its kind in Asia by 2024. Already athletes from the HPC, that began operations in 2019 as a collaborative effort between Reliance Foundation and the Government of Odisha are achieving eye-catching success. Sabita Toppo won two medals at the Junior National championships in Guwahati earlier this year, a gold in the U-16 girls Long Jump and silver in the U-16 girls 80m hurdles, while Rajendra Sidhu, claimed bronze in the 80m hurdles in the U-16 boys category at the same meet.

At the Federation Cup in Patiala in March, AmlanBorgohain in the 100m and Dilip Naik in the 800m and 1500m, returned with PB timings. Hillier is convinced the professional structure that has been put in place at the HPC to ensure holistic development of athletes will continue to bear fruit in the months and years ahead.

“Athletes at the Athletics HPC have been exposed to sprint training specific to their events, maximum strength training in the gym and are all following a healthy nutrition programme which has all been designed by our professional nutritionist and prepared by our chefs,” he says. “Athletes also take supplements which have all been batch tested to ensure that they are not contaminated and they all have access to a performance mindset expert and physiotherapists and soft tissue therapy. Ultimately, we believe our athletes have by far the best support and are being supported in the best performance environment in India.”

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