Speedsters match America's fastest kids at Millrose Games
An eight-year-old sprinter from Kildare was the toast of New York City on Saturday night as he defeated some of America's fastest kids in an international race at the Millrose Games.
Bernard Ibirogba joined Emily Kelly from Donegal as Ireland's representatives in the Big Apple after being crowned champions in a competition called 'Ireland's Fastest Feet', a series of races which saw over 10,000 children try their hand at sprinting in recent months.
Kelly finished an impressive third in her 55m race in 8.97 seconds, shortly behind American champion Brianna Burrell, and she was followed on to the track by Ibirogba, who came with a late surge to win the boys' race by just one thousandth of a second in 8.41.
"I didn't know I won when I crossed the line," said Ibirogba, who until now was better known for his soccer skills.
His parents, Abiodun and Kudirat, moved to Ireland from Nigeria 17 years ago, and both were in attendance on Saturday to see their son light up the track at the Armory.
"I was so nervous," said his mother, Kudirat. "I was scared before the race but so happy after. I always knew he was fast!"
Also watching on was Sean Connolly, a former Irish international athlete who teaches Ibirogba at Scoil Naomh Pádraig in the Curragh. "He's an amazing student," said Connolly. "He's a great kid, listens to everything and works hard."
Ibirogba's school is one of 825 DEIS schools in the country, a programme designed to offer support to schools in disadvantaged areas, and Connolly was hopeful that this latest achievement would have a lasting effect.
"What it's going to do for the other lads there is huge," he said. "Bernard is amazing academically, and on the sports field a super footballer too."
The search to find Ireland's fastest kids was started in 2015 by Sligo native Dermot McDermott, a coach and ardent supporter of Irish athletics, who began by implementing two simple tests in each school he visited: a standing long jump and a flying 20m run.
This year's project saw almost 11,000 children participate, with 16 county winners and eight wild cards invited to attend the national championship in Athlone. The two winners were then invited to race the winners of a similar project run in New York at the Millrose Games, where former Irish Olympian Ray Flynn is the meeting director.
The idea was borne of McDermott's love for athletics, and he views it as the perfect way to both identify and recruit talent to the sport.
To date, he has funded the project himself, paying expenses for the trip to New York for the athletes and their parents, but he is hopeful the initiative will find a financial backer next year and expand further.
"I would work 9 to 9 Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, then go around the country doing the testing every Thursday, Friday, Saturday," he said. "It was a lot, but the impact this has had on the school is massive. This makes it all worthwhile."