Rhasidat Adeleke: ‘It’s championship racing, anything can happen’

‘Coming around the bend, I was like ‘where am I? Okay, wake up!’ Then I started picking them off’

It looked easy and was anything but slow, and by the end Rhasidat Adeleke didn’t realise it was so long.

Not her 400 metres heat, naturally, which in the rising heat on Sunday morning, the 20-year-old duly won in 50.80 seconds – every bit as cool and convincing as anyone witnessed so far on this World Championship stage.

Indeed the hardest part was to come, Adeleke’s walk up through the mixed zone – TV and radio first, written press last – taking the best part of an hour, her presence garnering the sort of attraction previously reserved for sprinters whose surname begins with B.

Just as well Adeleke was in no way out of breath, repeatedly answering similar questions over again, all with the same gentle emphasis.


“It was really calm and relaxed,” Adeleke said. “The whole goal was just to go out there, stay in contention, in a good position, and win my heat. I’m excited to see how the next round goes, it’s later in the day so I’ve a bit more rest.

“The body felt really good, just to be out there to run, to see how I’m feeling, and I’m really happy with how that went. I think I kind of fell asleep the first 200m, then coming around the bend, I was like ‘where am I? Okay wake up! Then I started picking them off.

“But honestly, I put all the pressure and expectation on myself. So it’s not new, I just try to block out all the external noise, and focus on myself.”

It will likely be hotter again come Monday evening, with Adeleke drawn in the first of three semi-finals (8:12 Irish time), this time knowing only the top two (plus the two fastest losers) will make Wednesday’s final.

She’s drawn in lane six, and will have Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic two lanes outside her, the 26-year-old winning the last heat most impressively of all in 49.90. Paulino was runner-up last year in Oregon, and at the Tokyo Olympics.

Paulino (who improved her best to 48.98 this season), Candice McLeod from Jamaica (49.51) and Adeleke and are the only three sub-50 second women in the race, but the Dublin sprinter will be eying the top-two in order to reserve a similar lane for the final.

What is certain is that come the final, the hunt for the three places on the medal podium is wide open. American Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who clocked a world-leading 48.74 in July to win the US 400m title, withdrew earlier this month due to a “minor knee injury”, the Olympic and World champion in the 400m hurdles preferring to turn her focus to the Paris Olympics already.

Everything about Adeleke’s opening performance indicated she’s entirely focused on the task at hand. Lining up in lane five, in the fifth of the six heats at 10.07am local time – the National Athletics Stadium already a cauldron of heat and noise – the Dublin sprinter ran an utterly controlled race, cautious around the first bend, easing on the throttle down the backstretch, then easing right to the front.

Her time of 50.80 was the slowest of the six heats, none however run with such grace and ease: “It’s so early in the morning, there’s no point coming out and running fast, when you’ve another round tomorrow,” she added. “It’s also about being smart, getting ready for tomorrow, then hopefully the next round after that.”

As the wide-ranging questions continued (does she have a car in Texas? “No”) some did turn towards her final prospects: “It’s championship racing, you never know what to expect, anything can happen. I just focus on what I can do, I can’t control if someone else runs fast or something.

“Whatever God has planned for me, my goal is to just give it my all.”

It was only her third race in 10 weeks since her sensational victory at the American NCAA Championships in an Irish record of 49.20 seconds and Adeleke was always going to be a little rusty: “The last month was a bit hectic, but that was probably one of the easiest 50.8s I’ve ran. I felt really, really good, really controlled. Just trying to conserve as much energy as you can.”

Sharlene Mawdsley was out in the first heat, just 12 hours after anchoring the Irish mixed 4x400m relay quartet to a sixth-place finish in the final, nailing fourth in a new lifetime best of 51.17, enough to progress as a fastest-loser (drawn in the second semi-final, in lane two at 8:20).

“I just believed in my myself, was rewarded with a spot in the semi-final, and a PB, so that’s amazing,” she said. “I’ve trusted in my training, and being able to go back-to-back like that.”

Defending champion Shaune Miller-Uibo from the Bahamas was a notable presence in the third heat, finishing seventh in 52.65, a highly impressive result, given she’s only returned to racing four months after giving birth to her son Maicel in April. Other contenders certainly emerged, Jamaica’s Nickisha Pryce winning heat four, from the outside lane, in an impressive 50.38 seconds.

Monday’s schedule (all times Irish)

17:40 Women’s pole vault qualification

17:50 Women’s 400m hurdles heats

18:35 Men’s 400m hurdles semi-finals

18:40 Men’s triple jump final

19:05 Men’s 110m hurdles semi-finals

19:30 Men’s discus throw final

19:35 Women’s 100m semi-finals

20:10 Women’s 400m semi-finals (Rhasidat Adeleke, 8:12, Sharlene Mawdsley, 8:20)

20:40 Men’s 110m hurdles final

20:50 Women’s 100m final

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics