Amlan Borgohain Credit: EastMojo Image

Amlan Borgohain had been thirsting to compete. Having secured a spot at the Reliance Foundation Odisha Athletics High-Performance Centre (HPC) in Bhubaneswar earlier this year, the 22-year-old was desperately keen to learn just how much progress he had made under the tutelage of Head Coach James Hillier and his team since making the centre his second home.

However, with the country under lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic and no opportunities to participate in competitions, Amlan simply had to bide his time. Months of waiting though came to an end in October when Hillier told his wards at the HPC that they will participate in a Sprint and Middle distance fest, spread over a four competition series at the Kalinga stadium, where the centre is based.

Amlan was ready. He couldn’t wait to get to the starting blocks. And when he did, the results were stunning.

In six races, three in the 100m and three in his favourite 200m event, Amlan bettered his Personal Best (PB) on each occasion. When he arrived at the HPC, Amlan had a PB of 21.89 seconds in the 200m. Six months later, in the final competition of the Fest on November 8, Amlan clocked 21.20 seconds, an incredible improvement of seven-tenths of a second. He was deservedly named the best overall performer of the competition.

Remarkably, Amlan now finds himself on top of the Indian senior rankings for the year in the 200m, a feat that has convinced Hillier that his initial instinct about Amlan’s standout talent was on the mark.

“I felt he had a huge potential to succeed as he was naturally powerful and had long levers and the potential for good muscle tone,” says Hillier, recalling his early impressions of Amlan. “We were initially impressed with Amlan’s natural physique and leg speed. We also felt he had a large window for potential improvement as he wasn’t running as fast as his natural talent suggested to me he could.”

The Borgohain family draws its roots in Jorhat, Assam. Amlan’s father, Subedar Major BC Borgohain retired from army service in 2009 and settled in Hyderabad. Young Amlan was initially drawn to football, mesmerised by the playing style of Cristiano Ronaldo. It was only in Class XII that he began to focus on athletics with his natural speed helping him to some notable performances. He fondly remembers winning his first medal at the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) nationals in Lucknow in 2015 and podium finishes in the Under-18 & Under-20 categories at state level. The competitive bug had bitten Amlan, and he started to imagine a pathway to a career as a sprinter.

“Although there were some financial issues, my family supported me from the beginning,” Amlan says. “As an army kid I always wanted to serve my country. Initially, it was a challenge to maintain the perfect balance between studies and sports.”

For several aspiring athletes across the country such as Amlan, the introduction of the Reliance Foundation Youth Sports (RFYS) nation-wide athletics competition in 2017 was a game-changer. Conducted under the aegis of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), the competition was open to students from all recognised educational institutes free of charge. At every centre, top of the line facilities including running tracks, technology, equipment, medical assistance and refreshments were made available to the competitors. The best technical officials were roped in as adjudicators and an online management system to monitor results real-time ensured complete transparency.

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Amlan now finds himself on top of the Indian senior rankings for the year in the 200m category

For the national finals, where the top nationwide performers converged, athletes would travel to Mumbai at no cost with RFYS providing each national finalist running spikes and track suits. In addition, gold medalists and the top two institutes in each category would win substantial prize money. Officials from the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) were at hand to conduct drug tests, an initiative that drew appreciation from the athletics fraternity. In association with AFI, RFYS conducted age tests to ensure athletes competed only in categories they were eligible in.

The stated intention of the RFYS initiative was to “leave no talent behind” and it was here, in 2017, that Amlan made his first appearance. He clocked 11.03 seconds in the 100m and earned an invitation for the RFYS elite camp a year later, meant for the most eye-catching talent on show. It was at this camp that he, along with other participants, got their first taste of cutting edge sports science. By the time the 2018 RFYS national finals came along, Amlan had already made significant progress. He completed the 100m in 10.84 seconds and the 200m in 22.06 seconds.

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Having missed the 2019 competition due to his college examinations, Amlan’s progress was stymied. Hillier recalls their encounter at the Khelo India Games in Guwahati in January this year, where Amlan appeared lost and overweight, lacking a formal structure or quality coaching. Hillier invited Amlan to appear for an evaluation at the HPC in February and after four weeks of intensive training and assessment, confirmed a spot for him starting in April 2020, suitably convinced he had an athlete with the right attributes to nurture. In less than year since their initial meeting and just a few months into his stint at the HPC, Amlan is proving him right.

“It was beneficial to spend a period of time with Amlan as athletes that we invite into the HPC need to have more than just physical potential,” explains Hillier. “With Amlan, we could see he had a good attitude towards training and had a pleasant manner about him. We were confident that his personality and natural ability would be able to flourish in the environment we have created at the HPC.”

“We worked on two main things – his posture and his foot and ankle strength and stiffness,” he adds. “Good posture improved lots of the small technical issues that Amlan had, whilst improving his ankle and foot stiffness improved his reactivity and reduced ground contact times – something that is vital to elite sprinting.”

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Amlan considers registering a timing of 21.20 seconds in the 200m at the Sprint and Middle distance Fest as the best achievement of his young athletic career so far. Next on his radar is to break the 21 second barrier, which will bring him in contention for the senior national team. At the HPC, Hillier is working in proximity with the sports science and medical team from the Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital to ensure no stone is left unturned in pursuit of that objective.

Amlan is receiving cutting edge support in areas such as nutrition, psychology, weight training, flexibility, recovery and conditioning. Periodic performance assessments have established that Amlan gained lean muscle mass whilst dropping weight and fat percentage, therefore making him more powerful pound for pound. For his part, both on the track and off it, Amlan has devoted himself to the chasing his ultimate dream – to represent India at the Olympic Games one day.

“Amlan enjoys training and is not afraid of hard work,” says Hillier. “He is prepared to do the hard work that we require from him and he has a natural curiosity to understand why we are giving him certain things in training. As his personal coach I have found him willing to do whatever it takes to further his career and he gets great satisfaction and fulfillment from improving various areas of his performance in training, testing and competition. He understands and embraces the philosophy that we have given him that the harder he trains the easier the competition will be.”

In December, Amlan will return to the HPC for pre-season training after a few weeks of rest and recuperation. Hillier plans for him to participate in various competitions such as the Indian Grand Prix series in March. In his estimation, Amlan could be pushing to break the national 200m record, that currently stands at 20.63 seconds, in two to three years. Amlan himself has whole-heartedly embraced the challenge, relishing the opportunity to take his position on the starting blocks, and run like the wind when the starter’s gun goes off.

“I enjoy athletics because it’s very competitive and you can’t blame anything or anyone,” says Amlan. “Wins and losses always belong to one’s hard work.”

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