Rhasidat Adeleke going where no Irish athlete has gone before

The 20-year-old from Dublin is the first Irish athlete to win a prestigious NCAA sprint medal

It took not one, but two superfast races to decide it. Such are the quality and prestige of competition in American collegiate athletics, and in the end Rhasidat Adeleke once again went where no Irish athlete has gone before.

Clinching a first individual medal in a sprint event by nailing second place in one of the fastest indoor 400 metres of all-time, Adeleke once again delivered on her promise and raised her dazzling competitive trajectory still further. And she’s still only 20.

Billed as one of the headline races inside the Albuquerque Convention Centre this weekend, the contest didn’t disappoint. America’s own rising sprint star, 22-year-old Britton Wilson, took the win in 49.48 seconds, somewhat aided by the high altitude, a time that only a few week ago would have been the world record.

Then came Adeleke in 50.45, equalling her second-fastest time ever, and effectively run solo. The NCAA Championships, as with every other American collegiate sport, is as much a team competition as a solo one. The top eight counted as placings, which means for certain sprint events (namely the 200m and 400m) the finals are run in two sections, given there’s only six lanes indoors.


Adeleke was up first, running for the University of Texas, drawn apart from Wilson, of Arkansas, and Talitha Diggs, the Florida runner who ran 50.15 last month to break Adeleke’s briefly held NCAA record of 50.33.

From the gun Adeleke was up front and leading, motoring through the 200m mark in 23.07 seconds, by all accounts the fastest halfway split ever run indoors by a woman; that’s how much she wanted it. Inevitably she tired a little on the second lap, before winning in 50.45, Amber Anning, also of Arkansas, some distance back in 51.22.

With that Adeleke walked slowly on to the infield and sat down to watch what unfolded next. Diggs promptly got in front, passing halfway 23.17, before Wilson, the more diminutive but no less powerful runner, blasted to the front and won in her 49.48, Diggs second in 50.49.

So that put Adeleke on the podium in the silver-medal position, and in good company: Wilson, the outdoor NCAA champion in the 400m hurdles, won a World Championship gold medal in the 4x400m relay last summer, part of the American quartet that also featured Diggs. They’re serious runners.

Femke Bol ran 49.26 last month, the 23-year-old Dutch runner breaking the world record of 49.59 which had stood since 1982, and Wilson’s 49.48 is now the second fastest of all-time; it would also have won her the European Indoor title in Istanbul last weekend, which Bol won in 49.85.

Wilson, while unquestionably aided by having Diggs to race, still proved a worthy winner. Back in the team competition, Texas trailed Arkansas by just two points going into the final women’s event, the 4x400m relay.

So just an hour later, with Wilson in the anchor leg, Arkansas won in 3:21.75, smashing the world record of 3:23.27 set by Russia in 2006, Adeleke anchoring Texas in second, with a 50.77-split. It finished with Arkansas on 64 points, Texas on 60, Florida a long way back in third on 45.

It’s been a while since any Irish athlete has impacted on the NCAAs in this way. Midway through her junior year at Texas, Adeleke has made repeated progress in her indoor season, with this weekend her first final loss; she improved her own 200m record to 22.52 seconds, before first running 50.45 in the 400m, faster than her own outdoor mark of 50.53, then improving it again to that 50.33.

All this after her first winter season of 400m training, her coach at Texas, Edrick “Flo” Floreal, carefully nurturing her towards the longer sprint distance. “Things like that I’m trying to understand, what the speed of the first lap is supposed to feel like, all those minor things,” Adeleke told The Irish Times last month.

“So I’m still not a guru at the event, I am kind of learning. I have so much more to give.”

Back home, another notable sprint performance fell to Mark Smyth of Raheny Shamrock, who broke Paul Brizzel’s national 200m indoor record, clocking 20.64 seconds to win the Leinster Indoor Championships at the Sport Ireland National Indoor Arena. Brizzel’s 20.75 had stood for 20 years.