Updated: May 6, 2022 4:25:05 pm
PRIYA MOHAN HAD a go at singing, dancing, playing the keyboard, even painting. “I tried them all out because my parents wanted me to, but my first and only love has been athletics,” she says.
Today, the 19-year-old is the centre of a rising buzz in Indian athletics. Not just because she beat India’s fastest runner Dutee Chand four days ago. She is being hailed as a potential world-class athlete, with incredible muscle-levers, by biomechanics experts.
“At our centre, we have tested more than 2000 elite athletes, but her readings are way better than any athlete who has walked in here,” says Anthony Chacko, director of the Karnataka state-run Centre for Sports Science (CSS).
“Her torque (strength and force generated by the legs and muscles around the thoracic spine) is about 480 Newton metres while most elite athletes we tested were in the 280 Nm region. She is blessed with an incredible recovery rate. If she stays injury-free, she has the potential to become a world-class athlete,” says Chacko.
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When running, the four limbs plus muscles surrounding the spine – shoulder extensors, hip flexors, the lateral spine rotators, shoulder flexors, as well as the leg muscles – glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, help in clockwise and counter-clockwise torques that enable speed generation. Priya’s running torque enables a sturdy pivot around which pace-work can be built upon.
The centre conducted performance assessments to check strength, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance and adaptation. “Her peak torque, relative peak power, and recovery heart were too good for that particular sport. We also made her do a recovery intervention through hyperbaric oxygen therapy which helped her in reducing fatigue,” Chacko adds. Alongwith Priya’s coach Arun Ajay, experts at the centre predict “great scope of improvement” for someone who started the season clocking 52.37s in 400m — and will soon be within striking distance of the national mark of 50.79s.
Last year, Priya clocked 52.77s, which got her to a close fourth at the Junior World Championships at Nairobi, and was India’s best timing in 400m in 2021. This year, the Bengaluru-based athlete began the season by improving her 400m personal best to 52.37 at the Indian Grand Prix in March — and has been performing consistently in the run-up to big-ticket events like the Asian Games and the Junior World Championships.
On the domestic circuit, she has beaten M R Poovamma, a seasoned quarter-miler who has three Asian Games golds, thrice already. At the Khelo India Games last Sunday, she proved her credentials by besting Dutee Chand in 200m — an event that Priya doesn’t even specialise in.
And, even though the teenager’s personal best is quite some distance from a national mark of 50.79s, the athlete has made commendable progress since joining coach Ajay in 2018. “My timing in the 400m was 1 minute 43 seconds then. I did not even know what stretching exercises were. I was just a school-level athlete,” Priya says.
But Ajay knew Priya had potential. And he was proven right. With just a few months of training, she went on to finish fourth in 400m (56.46s) and won a silver in the medley relay at the Youth Asian Championships at Hong Kong in 2019.
Ajay reckons Priya is capable of clocking below 51 seconds this season itself. From there, the possibilities are immense.
This month, Priya, who is backed by JSW’s Inspire Institute of Sports, will pack her bags for Europe to train and compete in three Continental Tour Meets — May 15 (France), May 22 (Italy), May 28 (Spain) — a stint that can iron out a lot of flaws in her running.
“She is very young and we are not giving her too much of a load in training at the moment. We don’t want to burn her out. She is still a work in progress. Her starts are not so explosive and she still has to learn how to pace her run. But these are things she will improve with training and more exposure,” says Ajay.
Priya’s load-taking capacity was on show at the Junior Worlds in Nairobi last year when she ran five races, including the bronze-winning 4×400 mixed relay, in just three days.
“We tested her heart rate when she goes all out in training. We monitored the last 100m and observed her heart rate was around 60bmp, which is very good. That also means she can easily take on more workload without getting injured. Priya has also outdone other athletes in the cognitive assessments we have done,” says Chacko, a former Ranji cricketer who has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble.
When Priya knew she would have to compete under the Kozhikode sun at the Federation Cup last month, she trained at 12 noon in Bengaluru. “We were out with her with our equipment to test her and not once did she say she felt tired or needed a break,” says her coach.
“These numbers we get on tests don’t mean anything if the athlete has no passion. Priya is the perfect mix of numbers and passion,” says Chacko.
Back home, Priya says her father, who is a judge in the office of the Lokayukta, and mother started backing her on the track in the hope of a medical seat through sports quota. “They think sportspeople don’t get high-level posts. They still are worried whether I will get a good job or not,” says Priya, who is pursuing BCom at Jain University in Bengaluru.
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