Although she is only 15, sprint hurdler Sabita Toppo from the Reliance Foundation Odisha Athletics High Performance Centre (HPC) in Bhubaneswar is already making heads turn.
At the recently concluded Sprint and Middle distance fest at the HPC, Sabita was named the best female performer after achieving four Personal Best (PB) timings in six races, including three in her preferred event - 100m hurdles.
Since joining the HPC in August last year, Sabita has now improved her timing by more than two seconds and clocked 14.54 seconds in her final 100m hurdles race at the competition.
“My first impressions of Sabita were of her impressive competitive abilities and relaxed personality,” says Hillier. “She didn’t seem fazed by pressure or by tough competition and I was impressed how well she took success in her stride.”
“Sabita loves to compete,” he adds. “She has a great ability to raise her level in competition, which is an essential quality to have. As Sabita is still a young developing athlete her programme is based around multi-events and developing all of the key skills that are prerequisite in an elite athlete. We are trying to ingrain good technique and although we want some success now we are very much taking a long term view with Sabita.”
Sabita hails from Sundergarh and is the youngest of six siblings. From a very young age, her precocious talent was all too visible as Sabita would win all races with ease at the annual sports meet in her school. Once she secured a place at the Sundergarh state sports hostel, Sabita started to taste success, winning silver at the SGFI school nationals in Rohtak in 2018.
A year later she found herself at the HPC, a move that has had a transformational impact on her life. At the junior national championships in Guntur, Sabita won the Under-16 Pentathlon gold, breaking the national record in the process. More success followed with a bronze medal in the Long Jump at the Reliance Foundation Youth Sports (RFYS) National Athletics Championships in Mumbai in January 2020.
“The best thing about being here at the HPC is that I’m able to train under good coaches on a synthetic track,” says Sabita. “We have a very good gym, equipment, good accommodation, good food, quality running shoes and spikes which I couldn’t even think of 2 years ago, And I can understand English a little bit now! I have improved my basic speed and strength; I’m much faster in between hurdles now.”
Tragically, Sabita lost her mother, who had been a pillar of support for her, in July. Her father, a mason cum farmer, along with her older brother who is in the army remains steadfast in their support as Sabita targets further improvement.
“Next year I want to run 100m hurdles below 14 seconds,” Sabita says. “And when I graduate to the senior ranks, I want to win a medal in the Asian Games and Olympics. I don’t compare myself with anyone while competing, just want to give my best.”
Even as she builds on her early success, Sabita’s personal coach Rohit Mane has been focused not only on the technical aspects of her training but her holistic development as an athlete and a human being. Over the next few years, Sabita will primarily focus on multi-events with an eye to concentrating on the 100m hurdles, her favorite event, as she moves up the competitive ladder.