AthleticsOn Athletics

Difficult to separate Ciara Mageean and Rhasidat Adeleke after their impressive seasons

Both athletes enjoyed outstanding campaigns and deservedly share the Athlete of the Year award

You know these end-of-year sporting award fests are getting silly when you start disagreeing with yourself over who exactly won what. Nowhere does the objective meet the subjective with greater fear or envy, and this year was no exception.

When Athletics Ireland were first out of the blocks in naming their chosen one, such was the supreme quality and consistency of the performances it was impossible to keep two of them apart – so Ciara Mageean and Rhasidat Adeleke were announced as joint Athlete of the Year, and most people sat there thinking that one accolade divided into two was fair enough.

It was the first time two women athletes shared this one accolade, fitting given the similar heights reached by both Mageean and Adeleke over the course of the year, including their fourth-place finishes at the World Championships during those hot nights in Budapest last August.

Both also found ample success elsewhere, Mageean twice improving her own Irish 1,500m record as well as adding the mile and 800m records, and Adeleke repeatedly rewriting the Irish marks over 200m and 400m, indoors and then out.


She ended up breaking seven senior records in all, which also doubled as Irish under-23 records, making for a grand tally of 14. And all while still aged 20, the obvious feeling being that it’s only a matter of time before she wins this award outright.

For reasons not yet entirely clear, World Athletics went one better again last week, announcing a sort of three-way tie for both their men’s and women’s awards. So for the first time since starting up in 1988 – when Carl Lewis and Florence Griffith Joyner were joint winners, there was no individual accolade for Athlete of the year.

Despite giving no advance warning of the move, World Athletics had chosen to introduce new separate awards for track, field, and out-of-stadia, for both men and women.

Faith Kipyegon and Noah Lyles won the track award, pole vaulter Mondo Duplantis and triple jumper Yulimar Rojas won the field award, and the non-stadia accolades went to the men’s and women’s recent world marathon record breakers, Kelvin Kiptum and Tigist Assefa.

Michael Johnson that evening said on Twitter/X, “Am I the only person who thinks having six athletes of the year is a bad idea?”

Lyles agreed on that, the American sprinter hardly disguising his disbelief when sharing the spotlight with five other athletes.

“When they decided to split the award without telling any of us, including the fans that voted, it made me feel that none of our achievements were good enough,” Lyles said.

It can be particularly hard to compare athletic feats in different disciplines, especially when a pole vault World champion such as Duplantis can only win medals in one event, while Lyles and Kipyegon could win medals in two or three. Still, you’d never see that at the Oscars, and all it felt like a watered-down production in the end.

There was no such disputing the RTÉ Sport Sportsperson of the Year, with gymnast Rhys McClenaghan as popular a winner last Saturday as he was deserving.

It is sometimes said there is a blessing and curse in being the last man up on the pommel horse in the World Championship final, only at that point in last October’s event McClenaghan was already in a realm of his own.

Once again balancing his incredibly cool nerve and biting ambition, he won back-to-back world titles in the most testing men’s apparatus. Just as important for the 24-year-old from Newtownards, it sealed his Olympic qualification, with Paris now just seven months away.

After winning World Championship gold in Liverpool last year, becoming Ireland’s first ever global gold medal winner in the sport, McClenaghan added another European title in Turkey last April – his medal tally now includes two World Championship gold and one bronze, two European gold, plus Commonwealth Games gold and silver.

It will not bother McClenaghan that he’s now being increasingly touted as one of our big medal hopes for Paris, although it does put a little extra spotlight on what will ultimately be decided on the delivery of another flawless 45-second routine.

McClenaghan fully understands that deal. His hopes of making the Olympic podium in Tokyo ended after 10 seconds when he fell chest-first on to the horse and ended up seventh.

“I’ll be walking away from this a more dangerous man,” he said at the time. “Because with disappointment comes an incredible amount of motivation and inspiration.”

There are some gentle warnings from previous winners of the RTÉ Sport Sportsperson of the Year, that the extra attention brought on by awards can prove both a blessing and a curse.

After Barry McGuigan won the first edition of this award in 1985, on the back of defeating Eusebio Pedroza to become the WBA featherweight champion, he had a tough 1986, losing his title to the relatively unknown Steve Cruz from Texas, and never reclaimed it.

After Seán Kelly won in 1986, his luck turned in 1987. Leading the Vuelta a España with three days to go, Kelly was forced to abandon due to an infected saddle sore, and later crashed out of the Tour de France with a broken collarbone.

Sonia O’Sullivan managed to win three-in-a-row RTÉ awards, in 1993, 1994, and 1995, but then in Olympic year her luck changed too.

All of which might just be the nature of sporting achievement anyway, that accolades come and go, and all that are won should be gratefully received.