Jyothi Yarraji changes technique as she closes in on Olympic spot

Despite falling an agonising one-hundredth of a second short of an automatic slot, Yarraji remains positive as she gets closer to a Paris Olympics spot.

Published : May 23, 2024 18:56 IST - 4 MINS READ

Jyothi Yarraji with her coach, James Hillier.
Jyothi Yarraji with her coach, James Hillier. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Jyothi Yarraji with her coach, James Hillier. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Mere numbers suggest Jyothi Yarraji missed out on a national record and an Olympic qualification on Tuesday. 

Competing at the Motonet GP in Jyväskylä, Finland, Yarraji clocked a time of 12.78s in the final of the women’s 100m hurdles, matching but not breaking the national record she set at the World University Games last year. 

Her mark in Finland meant she had fallen an agonising one-hundredth of a second short of the qualification standard of 12.77 for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

But a video from the race posted by her coach James Hillier on social media conveys why that missed record isn’t likely to leave too many feelings of regret.

Until the ninth hurdle of her race, the 24-year-old from Visakhapatnam was well on track to set a national record and get an automatic Olympic qualification. 

Already clear of a field that included Jamaica’s Crystal Morrison (PB 12.69) and Finland’s Lotta Harala (PB 12.64), Yarraji attacked the final hurdle as hard as the previous ones. However, her right foot smashed into it.

All her momentum was broken but it was surprising that Yarraji didn’t fall over. 

“If she’d not hit that last hurdle, she probably would have run something in the 12.6 range. It’s obviously frustrating to her, but in the cold light of day, it’s incredible that she hit that last hurdle and still managed to run 12.78,” Hillier said.

While Yarraji managed to only match her record-breaking effort, there was nearly nothing in common between the two races - Yekaterinburg 2023 and Jyväskylä 2024. 

“When she ran 12.78 last year, it was like the perfect race. Here, she almost fell over and still managed to run at the same time. She’s definitely improved. She’s now a lot more comfortable racing these top girls,” said Hillier, athletics director with the Reliance Sports Foundation.

Yarraji secured her then-national record towards the end of the season. Now, she’s still in only her first month of outdoor competitions in 2024. 

To put things in perspective, she ran the same race last year as well. At that time, she had clocked 12.97 in the heats and 12.95 in the finals in contrast to her performance (12.80 in the heats and 12.78 in the final) this time around.

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“We don’t need to worry about that 12.77. Maybe not officially, but there’s no way that her time won’t qualify. She’s going to the Olympics hundred per cent. She’s in fantastic shape; she’s fast and strong. So, a really good performance will come (from her) at some point,” added Hillier.

These facts might only comfort Yarraji right now but there is a lot she could be happy with. For one, her quicker times have shown that a critical technical change she’s brought in seems to be working.

At 5 ’10”, Yarraji is among the tallest hurdlers which makes it harder for her to get off to a fast start. Adding to the challenge is the fact that like most hurdlers, she typically used to take eight strides to get to the first hurdle. 

“Because of this (technique), my back posture wasn’t good. It was taking too long to stretch myself up. I realised last year that I needed to reduce my number of strides to seven,” said the 24-year-old.

Losing one stride doesn’t seem like the sternest test but in Yarraji’s case, it meant overcoming a lifetime of muscle memory. 

“Taking seven strides meant that I had to switch my blocking leg (the leg which she pushed off from at the starting block). It had always been my left leg but now I had to start with my right leg. It was really hard mentally,” she said.

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Yarraji first began using the technique in early May at the Harry Schulting Games in the Netherlands. The hope is that it becomes seamless in Paris. 

“It was hard but I had to do something new this Olympic season. If I want to achieve something, I will have to challenge and change myself. It was a risk that I had to take but I’m glad it’s becoming easier for me now,” she said.

Yarraji has a competition on Sunday and will return to India to compete at the Inter-State Championships in July. And while things are falling in place for her, she’s not setting any targets just yet. 

“Right now, my mindset is simply to replicate what I’m doing in training. I’m not going to put down a time that I want to run. It doesn’t matter if it’s 12.7, 12.5 or 12.4. I want to take the stress out of competition. 

“I just want to get myself in the right positions while running and be as positive as possible,” she said.

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