Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Adeleke powers Ireland to brilliant bronze at World Relays

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Stop me if you heard this one before, but while you were (probably) sleeping, Rhasidat Adeleke has taken another giant leap forward in her burgeoning career. The 21-year-old Dubliner produced a mind-boggling split of 48.45 seconds to help Ireland to bronze medals in the mixed 4x400m at the World Relays in the Bahamas last night.

Amid a showing of collective brilliance from the quartet, there was no doubt who shone brightest. After taking the baton from Cillín Greene, Adeleke produced an astonishing run to hoist her team from fourth to second, and with two strong legs to follow from Thomas Barr and Sharlene Mawdsley, the Irish smashed the national record they’d set a day earlier, clocking 3:11.53 to finish behind USA (3:10.73) and the Netherlands (3:11.45).

“It’s unbelievable – the stuff of dreams,” said Greene, who recovered from multiple surgeries for a collapsed lung in recent years to return to this level. “We all ran so well last night, a national record, and to go out and back it up again and take a second off it, it’s phenomenal. We can’t be happier.” A relay team is only as strong as its weakest link, but this effort was defined by Adeleke’s game-changing individual brilliance. Despite carrying the fatigue of two 49-second legs on Saturday, which helped Ireland into two relay finals, the 21-year-old Dubliner summoned astonishing speed and strength to blast away from Dutch rival Lieke Klaver and hand off in second.

Times are a trivial thing to worry about at events where it’s all about medals, but there was simply no ignoring the significance of Adeleke’s split – not just for the Irish chances in that race but for her chances at the Paris Olympics.

Her 48.45 was the fastest female split of the entire weekend, quicker than reigning world 400m champion Marileidy Paulino managed (48.93); quicker than world indoor 400m record holder Femke Bol (49.54) and quicker than reigning Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo (49.54).

And this, remember, is from an athlete who has yet to peak – with over three months still to go until her goal race in Paris. The fastest relay split at global level in recent years is the 47.91 by Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone in Oregon 2022 and the US star may yet double the 400m with her specialist 400m hurdles in Paris. If so, she’s on a direct collision course with Adeleke, who proved over the weekend she has little to fear from the world’s best.

After the Dubliner handed the baton off, Barr was his tough, resilient self on the third leg, splitting 46.06 to pass to Mawdsley in second. The Tipperary sprinter ran an astute anchor leg, holding the inside line and putting up an almighty fight to try repel the challenge of Dutch star Bol, who edged her to second, with Mawdsley carrying Ireland to bronze after splitting 50.12.

“To come away with a medal, my first, I’ll be making the most of this,” said Mawdsley. “It’s a great start to the Olympic season. We couldn’t have asked for much more today.” It was also a first international senior medal for Adeleke. “I really appreciate my teammates; Cillín gave it to me in a brilliant position so I just took that and built on it,” she said. “I wanted to try my best to put Tom in the best position and I was able to catch a couple of people.” Amid the euphoria, Barr recalled his first visit to the World Relays in 2015 when he said it was “an unbelievable privilege” just to qualify. “Look at what we’ve built in nine years,” he said last night. “I’m very, very proud of this team and I’m very proud to say we gave it absolutely everything we had. We always punch above our weight. That is our magic.” Thirty minutes later, the Irish women’s 4x400m team took to the track for their final and in the absence of Adeleke and Mawdsley, who helped them to victory in Saturday’s heat in a national record, the revised quartet was unsurprisingly off the pace.

Still, they turned in a strong showing to finish seventh in 3:30.95. Phil Healy led them off with a 52.38-second leg, with Róisín Harrison splitting 53.27 and handing over to Lauren Cadden who clocked 53.09. Sophie Becker brought them home with a 52.21-second leg. The race was won by USA in 3:21.70.

“Seventh is really good for this team,” said Healy. “We broke the national record yesterday, we got Olympic qualification, and we got experience for the girls today in a world final. We’ll take that into Rome and Paris.” The Europeans in Rome from June 7-12 will be the next major staging post before the Olympics, and Adeleke and Mawdsley could face a tricky choice in Paris between their individual aspirations and the potential to contend in relays.

The heats and final of the mixed relay will take place on the opening weekend of the athletics programme, with one day of rest before the first round of the women’s 400m so they’ll be hesitant to go into that carrying fatigue. If any Irishwoman makes the 400m final, meanwhile, they’ll be unavailable for the heats of the women’s 4x400m, which take place earlier the same day.

But that’s a discussion for another day, and for Irish athletics it’s a very good problem to have. Because as they depart the Bahamas, the outlook for the summer is looking a whole lot brighter.

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