Jyothi Yarraji breaks 100m hurdles national record again

For two decades, the Indian women’s high hurdles record stood untouched. Young sensation Jyothi Yarraji has now bettered it twice in less than a fortnight. On Sunday, the 22-year-old broke her own 100m hurdles mark to win at the Loughborough International Athletics Meet in the UK.

Jyothi clocked 13.11secs, edging out England’s Jessica Hunter (13.26sec). The hurdler from Visakhapatnam broke the record for the first time on May 11, clocking 13.23secs at the Cyprus International Meet in Limassol. It improved on the mark of 13.38 secs, twice achieved in succession by Anuradha Biswal in 2002.

“It feels very special to break the record twice,” a delighted Jyothi said from Loughborough. “I was chasing the record, but I want to go under 13 seconds. I am happy I am closing in on it.”

It has been a great month for Jyothi, who twice saw her go under Biswal’s 13.38secs not recognised for technical reasons. The Asian record is 12.44 secs (Olga Shishigina of Kazakhstan) and Kendra Harrison (US-12.20) holds the world mark.

“I was excited but a little nervous, scared. I don’t have the experience competing outside. The foreign girls are good. I was not sure how the race would go. I took the lead after the 3rd hurdle but someone seemed to be catching up on the 5th or 6th hurdle. I just concentrated and pushed. It was good,” she said.

Jyothi, who is competing in overseas meets for the first time, is seen as a big talent. When it comes to hurdles though, PT Usha remains the benchmark—her 400m national mark set in 1984 still stands.

Going into the season, her British coach James Hillier held a month-long training session in the Spanish island of Tenerife. “There is a good facility in Tenerife where athletes can train together. She has good natural speed, elastic strength and reactive strength. Of course, she needs to get better and snappier on the hurdles, keep developing her speed and become stronger,” Hillier, a former hurdler, said.

One of the most technical but visually appealing events in track and field, Hillier compares doing 100m hurdles to ‘running in a jungle at night.’

“You don’t know what’s coming your way. You have to be brave enough to attack the hurdles. Running hurdles can be scary. You can hurt yourself anytime.”

He watched Jyothi in a domestic meet last year and called her up to the Reliance Foundation Athletics High Performance Centre in Bhubaneswar. She hasn’t looked back since.

“There was no training during Covid in 2020 and when things opened, I pushed myself in training because of the world universities meet. I was injured (meniscal tear) and it was difficult even to walk. “Coach (Hillier) asked me if I would like to train with him and it was a good opportunity. It was a good hostel facility and I didn’t have to spend anything. Otherwise, it was difficult to sustain my training,” said Jyothi, whose father works as a security guard. “Whatever my father earns is just enough to run the family, I’ve to look after my training.”

Active child

As a child, running was more an adventure for Jyothi. She would slip out of the house – at the risk of spanking from her elder brother—to run in her school in Kancharapalam village near Vizag. She was enrolled in the Sports Authority of India’s Hyderabad centre in 2015 and shifted base to SAAP Centre of Excellence in Guntur.

“Nobody in my family knew about athletics. My brother did everything to stop me, he even hit me. I would not go for a day or two and then sneak out of the window. He gave up after a few months. Now everyone in the family is very supportive.

“I was a sprinter until class 10. I tried jumps and javelin too, but had a few injuries. My physical instructor told me ‘you have good height and strength, so try hurdles.’ It was exciting. I never took a step back.”

Her Loughborough run almost didn’t happen due to a hamstring niggle. She cleared a fitness test, got her thigh strapped and was ready to go.

Past disappointments had left the talented athlete disheartened. She clocked 13.03 secs in the 2020 inter-varsity meet in Moodbidri, Karnataka, but the meet was outside the purview of Athletics Federation of India (AFI). She clocked 13.09 secs in the Federation Cup in Kozhikode in March, but a tail-wind above the permissible limit (2m/sec) meant it was not accepted as a record.

Jyothi has qualified for the July-August Commonwealth Games. She wants to run in the July world championships in Eugene, Oregon, but must achieve a stiff qualification mark of 12.84secs.

“It will be tough but I have two races to go for it. I am preparing for CWG. It will be my first major international event and I am excited. My dream is to see the Indian flag flying.”

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