Israel Olatunde: ‘I’ve surprised myself and the world in the past, so why not this year again?’

After a difficult season in 2023, the 21-year-old Irish 100m record holder is still dreaming of the Olympic Games in Paris

In musical realms it might be considered the second album syndrome, only for Israel Olatunde there is no lasting fear or regret about his struggle to repeat the smash-hit season of 2022. If anything it’s fired him up even more, recalling those “promising pockets of light” that have kept him going in darker times.

When Olatunde took over the mantle as Ireland’s fastest man in the summer of 2022, running 10.17 seconds in the European Championships 100m final in Munich, finishing just .04 off a medal, it suddenly seemed all the world beckoned.

At age 20 the Drogheda-born sprinter was already mixing it with the world’s best, that race in Munich won by Italy’s Olympic champion Marcell Jacobs. Despite an encouraging start to 2023, taking down the Irish 60m indoor record, which had also stood to Paul Hession since 2007, his progression unquestionably stalled.,His 100m best last season of 10.32 was well short of qualifying for the World Championships in Budapest.

“I’m only human, and when things aren’t going your way, you do get frustrated,” he says. “But I don’t want to waste my time on that, I have to realise that this is what I signed up for, so I’m on this career for the long run, hopefully.


“Being upset about where things are at the moment isn’t going to help me run any faster, so I have to look towards the light.

“Once you hit such a huge height, there’s often a big drop off, I guess emotionally and mentally. But no one’s career is going to be an upward trajectory, that’s something I’ve learned.

“I guess it has been a tough time since the Europeans, but in that time, there are promising pockets of light. I’ve broken the national 60m record, got to the European Under-23 final, hopefully there’s more bright spots this summer.”

Olatunde is speaking from his current training base in Clermont, one of the US national sprint centres 35km west of Orlando, enjoying the perfect weather and training environment with his coach Daniel Kilgallon and five other members of the sprint group at Tallaght Athletics Club.

The three-week camp affords Olatunde, the chance to focus on specific elements of his sprinting technique, and jump into some local races too. On Saturday, he ran 21.42 for 200m (+2.3 wind), followed by a 10.64 in the 100m – “an interesting experience, for sure” he says, but for now it’s all about the 100m.

“I know those times aren’t going to set the world on fire. But for me, personally, that was a big step forward, and I was really happy for myself. We’re not scared to make mistakes. There are some things we’re working on that will definitely pay off later in the season.”

He’ll almost certainly qualify for the European Championships in Rome, on the second weekend in June (he’s ranked 22nd of 36), and although the Paris Olympics will require another major leap forward, he’s not ruling that out either. The automatic qualifying time is 10.0-flat.

“Of course, it’s Olympic year, I think every athlete is kind of dreaming of being on that start line in Paris. For me, there is a lot of work to be done, but all I need to do, I guess, is do my best performances in training and in competition this season, see where that lands me.

“I need to be in the top 56 [ranking quota], or run under 10 seconds. I’m a little bit off the mark in both those aspects, but I’ve surprised myself in the past, surprised the world in the past, so why not this year again?

“That’s something I have been working on with a sports psychologist, working on my self-confidence, different ways to draw confidence if performances aren’t there. You just have to keep knocking on the door and its eventually going to open.”

His first competitive 100m will be in Belfast on May 11th, and he’s confident he’ll soon start experiencing the full benefits of being a full-time athlete, after graduating from UCD last September in Computer Science.

“Sometimes I take it for granted, I forget I’m living the life I dreamed of when I was a little kid. It’s come so early that I forget to take it in, that this is every athlete’s dream, to be sponsored by one of the biggest brands in the world [Adidas], to travel the world doing what I love. I can’t forget that, this is what I’ve been working for since I was young.”

– Israel Olatunde is an ambassador for Spar European Athletics, a headline sponsor for the championships in Rome, which take place from June 7th-12th.