How India’s fastest hurdler is preparing for the Olympics

Jyothi Yarraji currently ranks as the 34th fastest hurdler in the world (HT Photo) (HT_PRINT)
Jyothi Yarraji currently ranks as the 34th fastest hurdler in the world (HT Photo) (HT_PRINT)


Jyothi Yarraji from Andhra Pradesh is the first Indian woman to qualify for the 100m hurdles event. Her preparation for the race entails up to three rigorous training sessions every day

Running, one might say, is easy. But running fast? That’s not. And running fast while jumping over barriers? That’s a totally different ballgame to borrow a cricketing analogy for a cricket-obsessed nation that is still celebrating the ICC T20 World Cup victory. Just ask the 24-year-old Jyothi Yarraji from Visakhapatnam in coastal Andhra Pradesh. 

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Yarraji, not a household name in India yet, has become the first ever Indian woman to qualify for 100m hurdles for the Olympics games. Though Yarraji missed the Olympic qualification mark by one-hundredths of a second at an Olympics qualifier event in Finland finishing the 100m hurdles in 12.78 second, she made the cut on the basis of her ranking (34th) in the world. She is part of the 28-member athletics team, headlined by Tokyo Games gold medallist javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, announced by the Athletics Federation of India last week. 

What's the magic formula to make it to the Olympics as a hurdler? 

Does this make you wonder about what it takes to be the best in India and the 34th best hurdler in the world? Speed, strength, mobility, flexibility, coordination and motor control are only good enough to make you a hurdler, not a champion hurdler. And to make the cut for the Olympics, you have to be better at all of these and also be dedicated, focused and consistent. The good news is that there is no magic formula in becoming a good hurdler, says Olympic silver medallist and former world record holder in hurdles Colin Jackson of Wales. 

“The basic training is not different for any hurdler. [But] every athlete is different and needs to work on their weaknesses. You need to engage yourself and look at your flaws and faults, first of all. I had to work extra on my flexibility and mobility to make sure I was up to scratch and better than everybody else," says Jackson, sports director for the Red Bull Wings for Life Run, who visited India as the international event ambassador for the Tata Steel Kolkata 25K last year.

Hurdles is an event where you are running and jumping, which means you are employing speed, strength and explosive power as well. Jackson says weightlifting is very important for these attributes. Weightlifting and flexibility combine to make the hurdler strong and elastic, says Jackson. “If you are short you also have to make sure that your technique is flawless. You do drills to improve your technique and spend time working on the technical aspects of the race. Finally, you marry that with speed that you have to build on to get faster. Then, you just put all these elements together to get the ultimate performance," says Jackson. 

Weightlifting, running, stretching & spinning

Yarraji has been doing exactly what Jackson prescribes for success in this extremely technical event. She puts in the hours in the gym, lifting weights and doing multiple lifts including, but not limited to, deadlifts, cleans, bench press, shoulder press, squats and lunges. Outdoor sessions include dynamic stretching, band work and drills from starting off the blocks to tackling and clearing the hurdles. Of course, there is plenty of running and sprinting involved too. On a typical day, Yarraji could have up to three training sessions — weights in the gym, banded exercises and a track session to work on speed, technique and hurdles. This ends with a spinning cycle on a stationary bike. 

That the 24-year-old has immense strength and balance is evident in the fact that in May she managed to finish the 100m hurdles in Finland in just 12.78 seconds despite her leg crashing into the last hurdle. She not only stayed on her feet but recovered and blazed past the finish line. She had suffered a minor hip flexor injury due to that collision but she is fully fit and firing now, according to her coach James Hillier. Yarraji has also had to change her starting stance because she needed to reduce one stride (from eight strides to seven) between the starting blocks and the first hurdle after Hillier pointed out a minor issue with her posture. That is still a work in progress and Hillier was quoted by the Hindustan Times as saying that she will be absolutely ready to go by the time the Olympics arrive.

Jackson says when it comes to training for the Olympics, there is no real magic… it’s just working on your weaknesses and building on them slowly but surely. “It takes a long time to get to the very top of your game. Nothing comes instantly," says Jackson. Yarraji, whose Instagram account has plenty of videos of her training sessions for everyone to see, is putting in the hard work, constantly improving her own national records and performances. She is all set for her first taste of the Big Olympics.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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