Jyoti timed 13.03, a national record. But it wouldn’t be counted as one.
Last week Jyothi Yarraji, 20, broke the 18-year-old national 100m hurdles record at the All India Inter-University Athletics Championships in Moodbidri, Karnataka. Her sensational run of 13.03 seconds wiped out the previous mark of 13.38 seconds and she improved her personal best by nearly a second. Yet chances of Jyothi, the daughter of a private security guard from Vizag, being named the national record holder is slim.
This is because the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) did not test her at the championships and there was no technical delegate from Athletics Federation of India (AFI) at the event. A dope test and an AFI technical delegate as observer at a meet is mandatory for records to be ratified. The organisers though put the blame squarely on NADA and AFI for robbing a young athlete of a record.
When Jyothi's coaches realised she had gone faster than the national record, they approached the organising committee of the inter-university championships to ensure dope control officers of NADA collected her sample, Alva Education Foundation's chairman Dr Mohan Alva said.
The championships was hosted by the Alva Education Foundation and the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences. According to Alva, the AIU had informed NADA about the dates of the championships which were from January 2 to 6, but athletes were tested only on the last day. The women's 100 metre hurdles final was held on January 5. “We had qualified technical officials who have the experience of being at major national and international championships at the university meet. The AFI's secretary CK Valson was invited to be at the championships. As for NADA, it is up to them to conduct dope tests. All athletes at the inter-university meet were available for dope testing. We would like to see Jyothi's performance given the credit it deserves,” Alva said.
NADA director general Navin Agarwal told The Indian Express that the organisers did not inform NADA about the championships but they had collected samples of other athletes. "Jyothi is slated for an out-of-competition test at some other day," Agarwal said. Triple jumper Jay Pradeep Shah, who set a meet record, was tested, the NADA director general confirmed.
The AFI also said there was no invitation to its technical delegate from the AIU or the organisers. “The AFI is very happy to know that this particular athlete has improved her timing. But without our technical delegate being officially invited to the championships we are not in a position to check if everything was in order. For example, how do we know that the height of the hurdles were correct? The championships must have been conducted in the best possible manner but ratification of the record needs multiple factors to be verified,” AFI secretary Valson said.
An AIU observer at the championships witnessed the presence of qualified technical officials, photo-finish cameras, wind gauge and electronic timing at the Swaraj Ground where events were held. Videos of the record-breaking performance, which have been shared on social media, show the final being run on a standard synthetic track and hurdles of an AFI-approved manufacturer being used. Over 4,400 athletes from 315 universities participated in the championships. Sports minister Kiren Rijiju was the chief guest at the opening ceremony.
“Everything was in place during the championships from the technical point of view. This was as good as a national track and field event. The timing and records were genuine,” Reenu Poonia, one of the observers from the AIU, said.
An organising committee member said NADA's dope control officers were requested to test Jyothi as she was still at the venue when they arrived a day after her event.
NADA director general Agarwal countered this by throwing the rule book: “Dope Control Officer at a venue has no discretion to decide who to test and who not to test. Testing is done as per mission order generated through ADAMS (Anti-doping administration and management system).”
Jyothi believes breaking the 'record' will act as a confidence-booster for her. "My aim is to win a senior medal at the Asian level," the B.A first year student from the Acharya Nagarjuna University, Guntur, said. When she started running at state-level meets, she did so without shoes as her family couldn't afford a pair. Once she enrolled at the centre of excellence of the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh in 2015, she wore her first pair of spikes.
"My mother is a part-time cleaner at a hospital. She has encouraged me to pursue athletics. She saves money to fund my basic needs. It has not been easy for us as a family because we are not well off. My father works as a security guard and is posted at various places," Jyothi said.
She followed a routine post her medal ceremony in Moodbidri last week. "My mother does not have a phone. So I forward pictures of me on the podium or videoes of my races to a neighbour who has a smartphone. My mother watches it later. She is happy I won gold and broke the national record at the inter-university meet. I hope the record is recognised."
Jyothi made waves when she won gold at her very first senior national competition, the Inter-state athletics championships in Lucknow in August, clocking 13.91 seconds. Shattering the long-standing national mark of Anuradha Biswal set in 2002 was a phenomenal improvement. Yet her name is unlikely to enter the record books.