Wednesday 19 September 2018

Green shoots in Gyor show Irish athletics can have a bright future

'On Saturday night Rhasidat Adeleke shocked herself and everyone else by obliterating her personal best in the girls' 200m final, flying to gold in 23.52.' Photo: Giancarlo Columbo/Sportsfile
'On Saturday night Rhasidat Adeleke shocked herself and everyone else by obliterating her personal best in the girls' 200m final, flying to gold in 23.52.' Photo: Giancarlo Columbo/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

Four medals, three athletes, two European champions - it all added up to one great weekend for Irish athletics in Gyor, Hungary.

For the boys and girls in green, the European U-18 Championships provided a nostalgic throwback to the past, and shone a spotlight on their delightfully diverse present and offered a glimpse into an oh-so-bright future.

Book-ended by gold medals by the star of the Irish team, Sarah Healy, in between her two stunning successes there was enough evidence to say this is the most gifted crop of young Irish athletes in decades.

On Saturday night Rhasidat Adeleke shocked herself and everyone else by obliterating her personal best in the girls' 200m final, flying to gold in 23.52.

"I can't believe it," said the 15-year-old, who came into the race with a best of 23.77. "It's surreal. I'm lost for words. I knew I could go fast, but not that fast. To come out with the gold is crazy."

The smile had barely left Irish faces when another athlete lined up with a medal chance, 16-year-old Sophie O'Sullivan taking to the line at her first international but looking every bit at home in this sphere as her mother Sonia always was.

Relaxed and nonchalant off the track, ferociously competitive on it, O'Sullivan excelled herself to win a superb silver medal in a lifetime best of 2:06.05, an even bigger achievement when you consider that she is in the middle of the cross country season at home in Australia.

As a dual citizen, O'Sullivan has a couple of years before she has to choose who she'll permanently represent internationally, but the memories banked last weekend will go a long way to keeping her in green.

"I just wanted to get to the final, but once I was here I wanted to do the best I could," she said. "There's always that bit more you can put in so you just have to push all the way."

It didn't go according to plan for all of them, of course, race favourite Patience Jumbo-Gula faltering in the girls' 100m final and finishing fifth. But what was heartening was her reaction to the disappointment, the Dundalk teenager showing a composed maturity that'd be hard to find in athletes several years older.

"The start wasn't good and it was not a good run, but I'm happy that I'm healthy and I'm happy for the other girls," she said. "I'm proud of my season and I'll come back stronger next year. It wasn't meant to be today."

And then there was Healy.

An athlete of enviable potential, with down-to-earth modesty and staggering athletic gifts, her two golden runs embodied an engine that hums at a very different rate to her peers.

In the 3,000m final on Friday, Healy splashed through the rain to a championship record of 9:18.05, her 2:57 final kilometre run with a composed serenity that made it look easy, even when running at 20kmph which is not to be tried at home.

Then, in the 1500m final last night, she toed the line burdened with the knowledge that everyone, her rivals included, thought her unbeatable. Despite that, she was foot-perfect the entire way, taking up the running after a lap and coming home a peerless winner.

She kicked off the front with 300m to run and had a whopping four seconds to spare at the finish, which she reached in a championship record of 4:18.71.

Many rivers to cross, of course, before any of this translates to senior success, but for now the sport has good reason to picture a future paved with gold.

Irish Independent

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