Having set targets for the 2023 Olympics and the 2026 Youth Olympics, the Reliance Foundation Odisha Athletics High Performance Centre in Bhubaneswar hopes to keep up its incoming medal flow.
Athletes training at the Centre have claimed a total of 25 medals including 10 gold, eight silver and seven bronze medals at the Odisha State championships in Cuttack, in addition to two golds and a bronze at the Junior National Championships in Vijayawada in 2019.
At the Reliance Foundation Youth Sports (RFYS) National championships in Mumbai in January, 2020 a further 13 medals, including four gold, three sliver and six bronze, were delivered by athletes from the HPC.
While discussing tournament goals and targets, head coach of the Centre James Hillier prioritises holistic development as the initiative's mission.
“It (HPC) will create a sustainable development and support system to identify, nurture and maximize the potential of athletes from grass roots to elite level," Hillier said.
The Centre uses Reliance's nationwide grassroots development initiative - RF Youth Sports, where 30,000 athletes participated as its primary scouting platform. To better manage talent, athletes have been divided into a “Monitoring Cohort” and “Academy”.
Athletes in the Academy group are 16 years or older and 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 seven such athletes (four from Odisha) at the HPC academy currently, who live at the Kalinga stadium. Nine more have been identified from a trial camp that was held for best young athletes in the state in February and they will be integrated when it is safe to do so, keeping COVID-19 protocol in mind.
The 'Monitoring Cohort' has athletes aged 13-17, identified as being a maximum of five years away from winning a national level medal. Twenty such athletes from all over Odisha are currently part of the group and reside at the Bhubaneswar state sports hostel.
Sabita Toppo, who won the pentathlon gold while breaking the national record in the U-16 category and Rajendra Sahu who won a gold and bronze in the pentathlon and long jump U-14 categories respectively at the National Championships are both products of this initiative.
Reliance and the Odisha government signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2018, and Hillier says that the state government's commitment to sport has helped the partnership grow.
“The government is incredibly proactive and is willing to invest in good people to create a performance system that allows talented athletes to flourish.”
The Centre currently focuses on sprints, hurdles and middle distance running but seeks to include jumps and throws in the programme soon.
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