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Dublin: 6°C Saturday 5 December 2020

Irish sprint star Adeleke on the Leaving Cert rollercoaster and her big decision on the next chapter

The 17-year-old sensation has had a crazy few months – and there’s much more to come.

IRISH SPRINT SENSATION Rhasidat Adeleke was one of the 61,000 Leaving Certificate students on a rollercoaster ride over the past few weeks and months.

the-daily-mile-launch-sponsored-by-spar SPAR ambassador and Irish international athlete, Rhasidat Adeleke, was speaking with media to promote the Daily Mile Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

The infamous exams at the end of Sixth Year mark the conclusion of a student’s journey through the primary and secondary school education system, but this year The End ultimately came on a random Thursday afternoon in the middle of March.

Adeleke remembers it — the day of Leo Varadkar’s announcement from Washington DC exactly 10 weeks ago — as if it were yesterday. “Everyone was absolutely ecstatic,” the Presentation Community College, Terenure, student recalls. “But we really weren’t thinking we‘d be out this long.”

Home she went, with bag and baggage and enough books for two weeks’ study or so. It soon became apparent that we were in this for the long haul, however, and she and her classmates and friends accepted they wouldn’t be back in school any time soon.

Or as we now know, any time ever.

With the oral and practical exams cancelled — and all students to get full marks — the Leaving Cert was then pushed out to the end July. This was short-lived though, with everything called to a halt and the controversial ‘calculated grades’ plan announced a little over two weeks ago.

“At first I was nervous but it was the best decision to make,” 17-year-old Adeleke told the media over a conference call yesterday.

“I was grateful that I was pretty consistent in my exams and the school year because I know a lot of my friends would have been like, ‘It’s not my Leaving’ for the little class exams, but they ended up being part of the Leaving Cert exam.

“I am grateful that I was consistent enough in my exams to be able to get good enough points to do the course I would like to do. I was happy that they made the decision early on whereas we would still be studying now and they would still be cancelled. I was happy that they announced it.”

Her studies continued right up to the announcement, but that all came to a sudden close. Online grinds finished up, notes were thrown aside and the hard work stopped there and then.

rhasidat-adeleke Adeleke training in Carolan Park, Kiltipper, Dublin, earlier this week. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“When I heard the orals were cancelled firstly, I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to show off what I learned. But the fact that they were giving us full marks, that was a bonus because I don’t know if I would have gotten full marks.

“It was something to be happy about anyway. When the actual Leaving Cert was cancelled, I was studying up to, I think it was the Thursday when it said in the papers that it was going to be cancelled, so I just relaxed a bit then. When it was officially cancelled the next day, I stopped.”

A strange end to one chapter, but it means the start of another. With a virtual graduation in the works and the Debs pencilled in for 9 September — a move to February is being planned, though — Adeleke’s focus now switches to what’s next.

The 2019 double European Youth Olympic champion keeps changing her mind on what she’d like to study, but is hopeful of getting the points to do something in business or social studies. But that’s not the only decision she faces. The big matter is where she will study.

The Tallaght star is torn between here and the United States, and the current situation is making everything harder. A host of US colleges — including the University of Texas at Austin — had been offering scholarships in the hope of landing the prodigious talent.

But Adeleke may yet stay on home soil and has no definite decision made yet.

“Because of the whole Covid-19 situation, it makes it more difficult to make a decision,” she explains. “I’m not sure when the Leaving Cert results will be out and if I do decide to go the US, I’m not sure I will be able to begin this Fall.

“My other option is to start in January [in the US] which is pretty tough way to start a whole new regime. I’m not really sure at the moment but hopefully it will be cleared out in the next few months.”

She’s keeping her options open and figuring out where she’d be best suited, talking to several universities having visited during the October mid-term. While she was hoping to look at a few more this summer, she obviously can’t now but she’ll continue to seek out advice from other Irish athletes who have taken the scholarship route Stateside.

rhasidat-adeleke-celebrates-winning Celebrating winning the 200m final at the 2019 European Youth Olympics. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Adeleke been hearing about the good, the bad and the ugly — mainly from distance runners, however, as not many sprinters have crossed the pond — and is keen to paint a realistic picture for herself before picking a side of the Atlantic.

Yes, it would be an incredible experience, but it may be a step too far into the unknown. Staying at home has many benefits too, as she points out.

“I have a really good support team over here who have my best interests at heart,” she says. You can almost hear her smiling down the phone.

“I’m used to them and they have worked for me so far. My family are at home and it’s so easy to get homesick being so far away if I do go. Having my coach that I’m used to and being able to keep my friends here…

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“There’s just so many different things that would keep me in Ireland. If I don’t like the American experience I always have the option to come home. It’s nothing that I would be scared to explore.”

Wherever she finds herself continuing her education, Adeleke is committed to combining training and study, which is often hectic but it helps her keep a routine: “It’s tough. The week of my Mocks, I had about three indoor races. I remember leaving the Mocks and driving down to Athlone for the for the AIT Grand Prix and that was pretty strenuous.”

That said, she feels it would be “unfair” to factor sporting success into the new Leaving Cert grading system, though it’s something teachers may look at themselves.

That’s all to the back of the teenager’s mind though, as she continues life in lockdown like the rest of the country. With athletics taking the first steps towards returning this week, Tallaght AC’s track remains closed so Adeleke is sticking to training on the grass in a local park.

rhasidat-adeleke-celebrates-winning-with-her-mother-adewumi-ademola With her mother, Ade, at the European Youth Olympics in Baku last year. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

It makes no real difference as her coach, Daniel Kilgallon, lives outside her 5km radius, as do most of her training partners. Kilgallon continues to send sessions into a Whatsapp group and she’s following a gym programme, so she’s kept ticking over while steering clear of over-training.

“Distraught” that July’s U20 World Championships in Kenya have been cancelled among many other events, and with an empty competition schedule, Adeleke is hopeful of a National Track and Field Championships in August as “something to put all your hard work towards.”

There’s a lot of uncertainty, what-ifs and maybes at the moment, but she is trying to take the positives and look on the bright side. She finds a glimmer of hope in the Olympic postponement, having previously conceded that Tokyo would have come too soon this year.

An extra year under the belt may go a long way for the Irish women’s senior 4x100m relay team.

“It’s probably a little blessing in disguise because our relay team is really young and another year of development could really mean the world to us,” she nods.

“Our bodies develop, our speed develops and we mature, and hopefully that year will prove useful, even though we’re not competing and maybe not getting the best training we could be getting, it’s still another year to develop.

“Hopefully we can practice more in the winter and get everything together to be able to qualify and be successful towards Tokyo.”

Away from her own athletics exploits, Adeleke has plenty to keep her busy through the lockdown. She’s spending plenty of time with her family, whether that be playing football with her brother in the park or driving with her mother, as she awaits the resumption of lessons.

Some of her friends have taken up running and become more active too, and have turned to her for tips and advice.

“Even though it has been a tragic situation, Covid-19, it has been a blessing in disguise for many people because a lot of my friends are going to keep doing the activities that they’re doing now, when the Covid-19 situation is over.

the-daily-mile-launch-sponsored-by-spar Adeleke is a SPAR ambassador. *Photography captured prior to social distancing restrictions* Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

“Exercising is definitely good for our mental health. A healthy body is a healthy mind so it’s great for people just to get out and get some fresh air and it’s fun as well. You might have issues or negative aspects, and it’s just nice to be able to focus on something else you can actually enjoy and forget about all your worries.”

Plenty of time has been dedicated to reflecting too, and looking back on the whirlwind journey and rapid rise she’s enjoyed over the past few years. Her memories from the 2018 World U20 Championships — that stunning relay silver medal — in Finland and 2019 World Relays in Yokohoma, in particular, are certainly keeping her going.

It’s all helped her feel even more grateful for the position Adeleke finds herself in now.

“Definitely, especially with not being able to compete,” she concludes. “Photo memories come up on my phone of this time last year or this time two years ago. About two weeks ago, I got my memories from Japan, and it was just a time to be so grateful for the places I’ve been to and the opportunities I’ve been given as an athlete.

“Being an athlete opens many doors and it gives me many opportunities. This has given me time to reflect and be grateful to God for absolutely everything, to be thankful for absolutely everything that I’ve got right now.”


Rhasidat Adeleke was on hand to promote the SPAR Daily Mile, which sees primary school students run or jog at their own pace every day for 15 minutes. SPAR is calling on students to continue with their Daily Mile whilst at home to benefit their physical and mental health. 

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Emma Duffy

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