Saturday 17 November 2018

Gold at U-18 Europeans is just the start, insists Adeleke

Rhasidat Adeleke, at the launch of the Dublin Sportsfest, turns her focus to the U-20 Europeans next year. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Rhasidat Adeleke, at the launch of the Dublin Sportsfest, turns her focus to the U-20 Europeans next year. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Cathal Dennehy

Tears - they were everywhere that day, cascading from the eyes of Rhasidat Adeleke, who was only 15 years old but had just announced herself as one of the brightest talents in Irish sport.

They tumbled in torrents down the cheeks of Adeleke's mother Ade, too, who had moved from Nigeria to Ireland in 1998 and was standing trackside in Gyor, Hungary, head in hands and a bag of nerves, as her daughter won gold in a different shade of green.

"Everyone was pretty emotional and crying," says Rhasidat. "It was so unexpected."

More than two months on from the apex of her year, Adeleke - now 16 - reflects with great pride on that achievement, but the Tallaght sprinter is adamant that the gold medal she won over 200m at the European U-18 Championships will be the first of many.

Young

As young as she is, though, she knows not to think too far ahead. After all every great athlete is a hamstring tear away from oblivion - so said former marathon world record holder Steve Jones - and by now Adeleke knows the truth in that.

A week after her victory in Gyor, where she clocked a blistering 23.52 to win gold, she headed north to Tampere, Finland, for the World U-20 Championships, lining up on the Irish women's team which held a big medal chance in the 4x100m.

Running the third leg in the semi-final, Adeleke was ripping her way around the bend, eyeing up the anchor runner Patience Jumbo-Gula, when she felt a tightening in her leg.

"I was like, 'oh my God, I can't stop,'" she recalls. "I just couldn't disappoint the girls like that so I tried my best to get the baton to Patience and I did, but after that it got tighter and tighter and started spreading down my leg. It was really painful."

She was diagnosed with a grade one hamstring tear, and though she had fought through the pain to get them in the final, Adeleke would have to watch from the sidelines the following day with inevitably mixed emotions as Molly Scott, Gina Akpe-Moses, Ciara Neville and Jumbo-Gula won silver without her - the first relay medal by an Irish team at a major global outdoor championships.

"I cheered on the girls because I really wanted them to medal and I knew they could, but it was tough to watch," she admits.

"It was amazing to run in the semi-final but it's the final that really matters."

Fuel for the fire, though, as she now heads back into winter training, with 2019 and its endless possibilities stretching out in front of her.

"The hamstring is better," says Adeleke, who had to sit out the Schools International and Celtic Games in August as she recovered.

A family holiday to Tenerife rounded off a memorable summer and she has since entered fifth year at Presentation Terenure, where she has an affinity for history, biology and English.

Word of talent like hers tends to get around, and US colleges will line up with scholarship offers over the coming year, though Adeleke isn't so sure she'll take that well-worn path.

"I'd love to stay in Ireland because everything is going great here but I'm not sure," she says. "I'll have to see if a good offer comes."

At Tallaght AC she is coached by Johnny Fox, who Adeleke is quick to credit for her achievements.

"He's amazing. He gives me all the advice I need, not just for athletics but for everything else in life."

As fast as she is, her training is far from exhaustive. Adeleke trains three to four times a week, barely does any gym work and only this year will she lift weights for the first time.

"I have plenty to work on," she says.

The sporting gift runs in the family, likely handed down by mother Ade, who was better known as a long jump specialist back in Nigeria.

"I did a little bit of 100m too," says Ade. "But I was nowhere near as good as Rhasidat."

Ade first recognised her daughter's talent when Rhasidat was 12, a teacher at St Mark's school calling her and encouraging her to get Rhasidat to join an athletics club, having witnessed her outlier speed at a school sports day.

"She liked to do everything," says Ade. "She was the captain of the basketball team in school, she did Gaelic football and she also broke an All-Ireland record in the long jump before she gave it up."

Like any good mother, she makes sure her daughter has her priorities straight, ensuring that when Rhasidat took time out to launch the Dublin Sportsfest (the week-long event which started yesterday) that she first made it into school for a single maths class at 9.0am.

"Study is first and then sport is next," says Ade. "She has to make her bed to sleep on it, and then the opportunity will come for her - she just has to get it."

In 2019 Adeleke figures the European U-20 Championships in Sweden and the European Youth Olympic Festival in Azerbaijan will be the top priorities, and though she'll be only 17 by the time the Tokyo Olympics roll around in 2020, they could yet be on the agenda.

"I'd like to go for the experience, maybe on the relay," she says.

"It'd be amazing."

Irish Independent

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