Star athletes Jyothi Yarraji and Amlan Borgohain also shared their experiences of training under the English head coach.

Indian Athletics has taken giant strides in the 2022 season with many prominent athletes creating and breaking Nationals Records. Jyothi Yarraji broke the National Record four times in women’s 100m hurdles, and Amlan Borgohain at the back end of the 2022 season created a National Record in 100 meters. The Odisha Reliance Foundation Athletics High Performance Centre (HPC) in Bhubaneswar has played an important role in the development of these athletes in the past few years. These two and many more such talents train under the tutelage of the English high-performance coach James Hillier.

Khel Now got an opportunity to talk exclusively to Amlan Borgohain, Jyothi Yarraji and the head coach of the High-Performance Centre of Odisha, James Hillier.

Amlan Borgohain

Athletics wasn’t first choice

Amlan Borgohain started his career as a football player and went on to play at the National level. However, injuries troubled the youngster a lot and his well-wishers swayed him into athletics.

Looking back at the circumstances that made him look for a career elsewhere, Amlan quipped, “I started my football career in Class 5. It wasn’t a difficult sport as both father and brother used to play. Initially, I played at the national level but got injured frequently and at that time my brother’s friend who was a shotput player told me to try athletics. The shift too was good as I started winning state-level tournaments.”

Role of James Hillier and Odisha Reliance Foundation Athletics High Performance Centre

Amlan Borgohan joined the HPC in February 2020 and since then has progressed well. When the 24-year-old first joined the centre in Odisha, COVID-19 was at its peak. Like many athletes, he had to halt his training but utilised the time wisely to build the foundation and fix the fundamentals.

As a result, the National Games champion believes the pandemic gave his career a push in the right direction. He explained, “I joined Odisha Reliance Foundation Athletics High Performance Centre in February 2020. Luckily due to the pandemic, I had six months of training and the team here helped to build my foundation first. I always believe the athletes’ foundation needs to be very strong. I started taking part in several events in 2021. I won the Federation Cup with a timing of 10.44 seconds in 2021 and then in the Warangal Nationals, the timing dipped to 10.34 seconds. The technical aspects too changed like maintaining postures and running on the curve along with the eating habits.”

Jyoti Yarraji

Scouted by James Hillier

James Hillier has been the backbone of Odisha Reliance Foundation Athletics High Performance Centre and has been instrumental in the success of Jyothi Yarraji. Jyothi Yarraji created five national records under the guidance of James having built the athlete both physically and mentally.

Telling the story of how she was scouted by the head coach, the 23-year-old revealed, “I was playing at a national event and the coach called me here. I thank God that I came here. Or else I would have missed out on a lot in my career. The coach at first observed my body condition thinking about what is required to improve. He did not rush me but rather went slow and steady in my progress.”

Role of Odisha Reliance Foundation Athletics High Performance Centre

Jyothi Yarraji started her career training in her hometown in Andhra Pradesh. She, like Amlan Borgohain, joined HPC in 2020 but couldn’t start her new regime on a positive note suffering from injuries. She took a break in 2020 and came back strongly in 2021 and since then has been at her best. HPC looked after her nutrition, strength and conditioning.

Speaking on her experience at the HPC, Jyothi exclaimed, “It has been a surreal experience joining HPC. Before coming here, I used to run and perform certain drills but did not know why was I doing that and what their benefits were. At the start, it was difficult for me to hold a 20 kg bar but things started changing slowly. Rahul sir, the strength and conditioning coach, guided me in the gym training and also helped me understand the benefit of certain drills.”

Getting through injuries

As mentioned earlier, Jyothi Yarraji had to miss the entire 2020 season and fortunately for the youngster, the injuries did not make much impact on her career. She went in search of good physios and shelled out a lot of money but to no avail. This was the time when she joined HPC and the centre took proper care of her injury and looked after many aspects (diet, nutrition, strength and conditioning).

“I missed a whole season (2020) due to injury which was completely messed up. I went in search of many physios and spent a lot of money which did not cure my injury. When I came here (HPC) the training and food (nutrition) were excellent. The people here took complete care of me which has helped me progress as an athlete. The nutrition and (strength and conditioning) coach played a huge role along with the head coach,” the National Record holder said.

Adapting to overseas conditions

The 24-year-old took part in various foreign meets starting from the Limassol International in Cyprus. Overall Jyothi Yarraji took part in foreign meets and achieved good success. Indian athletes in the past have failed to adapt to foreign conditions at the start but Jyothi did not find that as a barrier, performing consistently across all the meets.

“It wasn’t difficult to adapt rather stay injury free. We have to be self-motivated and do what we are doing best,” the HPC athlete concluded.

James Hillier

Journey from 2019 to 2023 at the Odisha Reliance Foundation Athletics High Performance Centre

Initially, when James Hillier joined in 2019, there weren’t many athletes at the centre. Slowly athletes were scouted across India and currently, the HPC has a good talent pool (grassroots). Amlan Borgohain and Jyothi Yarraji are two senior standout athletes that HPC has produced with many more youngsters waiting for their chances.

Looking back at the journey, the English head coach informed, “It has been a tremendous journey. In 2019 we had nothing (no athletes) and were in the process of employing good-quality staff. We were in the process of building a good environment for young athletes to succeed. Overall we are happy as we could shape the HPC as we wanted initially. We look at the holistic development of our athletes on and off the pitch. We try and set them up for a life even beyond their playing years through education and giving them the right exposure.”

“Apart from Amlan and Jyoti Yarraji who have won several national tournaments and broken several records, there are many in the mix performing well. The state of Odisha has been performing well in the nationals winning medals. The grassroots system has become stronger and in future, we are planning to organize more tournaments and strengthen the grassroots,” James added.

Difference between High-Performance training and traditional training

High-Performance training includes multiple aspects in the career development of an athlete from basic education to looking after them completely on a day-to-day basis. HPC provides both physical and mental support which is a basic need for all athletes across all sports. Traditional training on the other hand just looks after their improvements in terms of timings.

Putting light on the difference between the two, James Hiller explained, “A lot of it is about the environment. When you enter high-performance training, it is about performance, looking at the improvements and optimizing them. The environment in particular is very challenging as it is specific. So the training for a high-performance athlete is very specific compared to the developmental athletes.”

Short-term and Long-term targets of the Odisha Reliance Foundation Athletics High Performance Centre

Every coach has both short-term and long-term targets and for HPC the short-term target is to widen the grassroots and develop the centre better. A good number of athletes are starting to progress well from the grassroots and have shown positive signs.

“One of the guiding principles of HPC is improvements. I will challenge the athletes to be better than what they were in the last week or to be better than what they were yesterday. So it is all about the short-term goals or targets and I am not a big fan of what we are going to do three years from now rather than live in the present. The long-term target will be to compete at the Olympic Games which is a directional movement. If we get the short-term goals set then automatically the long-term targets will be achieved,” James communicated.

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