The initiative is the latest in a series of innovative measures adopted by the organisation.

Athletes from the Reliance Foundation Odisha Athletics High-Performance Centre (HPC) in Bhubaneswar will have the opportunity to participate in a uniquely designed competition series that follows the concept of “Performance Graded Races.” The competitions begin on October 24, followed by further events on October 28, October 31, and a final event on November 8. In a significant departure from practice, races at these competitions will be graded entirely on timings achieved by athletes, irrespective of their age or sex.

“It allows athletes to experience the most competitive race possible and will hopefully help the athletes focus more on their own best individual performances rather than getting distracted in personal rivalries or just winning their respective age group race,” explains Head Coach James Hillier.  “We would rather an athlete finishes 5th in a personal best performance in a high-quality race than win easily with a poor performance in a weak race.”

“We wanted to create a competition programme that puts the athlete and their needs at the forefront,” Hillier adds. “Our athlete focussed competitions aim to give our competitors the best conditions and environment to run fast.  Our sprint events will always be run with prevailing wind conditions and our middle-distance events will have pace-makers.  We also rank our races based purely on performances and therefore it is possible for athletes of different ages and sex to compete in the same race if they are of similar abilities.”

Hillier experimented with a similar concept with a hurdles specific competition in the UK before he came on board as Head Coach at the RF Odisha HPC, and says the model was “extremely well received” by the athletes that participated. In the first year, with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic still being felt, the competition will be restricted to athletes from the HPC academy and monitoring cohort. However, Hillier and his team plan to expand the competition from next year and beyond to athletes outside the HPC.

The intention is to build what Hillier describes is a forward-thinking “Athlete-centric model” that can revolutionise the entire competition process in India. From 2021 onwards, athletes from Odisha and across India will be encouraged to participate once they have met the minimum performance cut off required in the lowest graded race. Hillier is also keen to secure participation from elite athletes as special invitees. The expectation is future events will be held over three nights – a Sprints fest, Endurance fest, and Hurdles fest.  

“These competitions will add value and more opportunities for athletes and we are confident they will see huge value for the athletes in what we are doing,” says Hillier. “Ultimately, we feel strongly that these competitions will help offer more competitive opportunities for athletes in India and go some way to improving athletic standards in the country.”

The HPC, a collaborative effort of the Odisha Government and the Reliance Foundation, currently has 29 athletes under its wing split between the monitoring cohort and the academy. Athletes in the cohort are identified as being a maximum of 5 years away from winning a national level medal. 20 such athletes from all over Odisha are currently part of the monitoring cohort and reside at the Bhubaneswar state sports hostel.

Athletes in the academy group are identified at various stages of development from being two years away from winning a national level medal to those with established international credentials. There are 9 such athletes (6 from Odisha) at the HPC academy currently, who live at the Kalinga stadium. In Hillier’s estimation, at the end of these four competitions, with plenty of time in the interim periods to analyse performances, these athletes will make significant progress.

“I expect all athletes to benefit from these competitions, though in different ways,” Hillier elaborates. “ For some of our younger athletes in the monitoring cohort the emphasis will be more on competition learning and how to compete whilst some of our older athletes from the HPC Academy will be looking for some performance improvements.”  

“There is enough time between the competitions to get rest and also reflect on improving any small things that will help the athletes perform even better in the next competition,” he adds. “We have scheduled 4 competitions over a 2 week period which allows our athletes to train to try and peak during this window.  The aim is for our athletes to perform at their best in the final competition. Therefore, we will be working with our athletes to reflect and improve their performances after each competition.”  

Hillier and his team have also earmarked the competition as a template to scout talented athletes that can be part of the HPC in the future, from Odisha as well as other states.

“We expect our athletes’ performances will validate the huge improvements that they have made during the course of the training year,” concludes Hillier.  “Our testing data gives us optimism that our athletes will perform well.  These competitions will also give the coaches and the whole performance team a good insight into how different athletes respond to the pressure of competition.”

To ensure the competitions are conducted in an entirely safe environment, strict Covid protocols will be in place.

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