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Dublin: 10°C Tuesday 19 January 2021

'Without faith, I don’t know if I would have been able to believe that I could have done something'

Ireland’s 17-year-old sprint sensation Rhasidat Adeleke on athletics, the Leaving Cert and what’s next.

THIS ISN’T A standard Tuesday morning for Irish teenage sprint sensation Rhasidat Adeleke.

the-daily-mile-launch-sponsored-by-spar Rhasidat Adeleke. Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

A Leaving Cert student at Presentation College, Terenure, the 17-year-old has already been to school and taken in two classes, but now she faces into the unthinkable of most others her age: media interviews. 

Her proud mother, Ade, is by her side for the most part, smiling as her daughter maps her rapid rise, but anxious to make sure she gets back to school as soon as possible.

2019 double European Youth Olympic champion Adeleke takes it all in her stride. Cool and collected, she’s happy to answer any question that comes her way.

Currently weighing up her options for after her Leaving Cert Year, she has a host of US colleges offering her scholarships, in the hope of landing the prodigious talent.

But there’s no plan in place just yet.

“I haven’t really made a decision because I just have a lot on my plate right now,” Adeleke, sporting her school uniform, explains. “I don’t want to rush into anything, or do it just to get it out of the way.

I want to really consider every pro and con. I just want to wait until a stress-free period, maybe during the midterm break, when I can actually think it through properly.

For now, her entire focus is on balancing her Leaving Cert year with her athletics.

Pretty much straight from school to the track or gym, Adeleke trains every weekday evening, bar Monday. She goes again on Saturday, but that depends on her racing schedule, with plenty of time for study in between.

“It’s tough,” she concedes, “but I think it goes hand-in-hand. There’s statistics to show if you do a sport or something, it will actually help you with the Leaving Cert.

“It will give you a healthier brain and everything. It’s tough but I think it’s going to work well in the end. It’s not too bad. After school, going training is a nice way to de-stress and forget that you actually have a huge exam coming up. I like it. Even just the social aspect, it’s good to talk to friends and just relax for an hour or two.”

rhasidat-adeleke-celebrates-winning-gold After winning U18 European gold in 2018. Source: Sasa Pahic Szabo/INPHO

Understandably, there is a lot of work involved. With the Mocks looming, there’s much more study to do. But just like she is on the track, Adeleke is on top of it all. While Maths and Biology are her favourite subjects, she’s not just as fond of Higher Level Irish.

“I’m just not that good at it, but I try my best,” she grins, before sharing her philosophy across the board:

“As soon as I get a task or homework, or find out I have a test, I want to try and get it out of the way as soon as possible because if I don’t, I’ll just leave it at the back of my mind and I’ll forget that I even got it. Then I’ll end up never doing it! I just try to stay on top of everything that I do.”

Ade certainly helps that. She keeps the pressure off her daughter as US universities come knocking, with the teenager simply referring them to her mother. 

“She’s my manager who takes care of everything,” Rhasidat nods with a grin.

She’s my taxi driver, she brings me everywhere; to training, gym, competitions, here; everything that I do. She makes my meals, makes sure that I’m in bed,” she laughs.

“Just doing typical Mum stuff. I’m really grateful for her, and the rest of my team.”

Standing at six foot now, the teenager first burst on the scene when she landed 200m silver at the European U18 Championships two years ago, aged just 15.

Interestingly — and she says so herself — she only started taking athletics seriously shortly before that. 

Minus Ade’s long jump exploits in her teenage years, Rhasidat doesn’t come from a hugely sporting family. But the Tallaght AC star first developed a love for athletics as she competed in primary school.

rhasidat-adeleke-celebrates-winning-with-her-mother-adewumi-ademola With Ade afterwards. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“Then, we had sports day and I would be beating the boys, so was thinking I must be quite fast,” she adds.

“I eventually joined a club when I was 12 and kept at it from there. I did field events, cross country. I was basically a heptathlete; I done everything.

“When I was about 13 or 14, I had this growth spurt and it was really bad because it gave me a lot of pain in my knees. During that period, I was going to training to do well but [enjoyed] a lot of the social aspects… when I was about 14, I started working harder.

“The growth spurt as well, because I grew a bit it helped. That year I kind of came onto the radar, and started winning national medals and stuff. That was my first international too.

It just all happened at once. I won my first national gold and then I ended up going to the European Youth Olympics. I got a silver medal there. It all happened at once, really quick. It was really weird.

A talented basketball player too, Adeleke gave that up at 15. While she was excelling with school and with club, she knew she had to focus on athletics when her star began to rise on the international stage. 

“I definitely do miss it sometimes because it is a team sport and it’s good to not have all the stress on just one person sometimes, and have a team support you,” she explains. 

“It is kind of that with athletics but at the same time, when you’re actually competing, you’re by yourself. Whereas with basketball, it’s a team sport. so it’s just not as stressful. It was just really fun, and not having to play at such a high level. I do miss it sometimes.”

But she’s more than happy with where things are going on her journey.

rhasidat-adeleke-celebrates-winning Crossing the line. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

It’s quite surreal, she admits, as she maps her rise.

“It was a big shock to the system,” she remembers of the aftermath of that original European silver in Gyor, Hungary.

I wasn’t used to it, because then you start going to awards and doing interviews. I was like, ‘Oh my God, look at me!’ It’s really good because it sets you up for more than just sport. Even public speaking, it just helps with other aspects of life.

While her shot to prominence was a whirlwind one — she also helped the Irish U20 relay team to world silver that same summer — Adeleke is becoming more and more accustomed to the limelight. 

Success, of course, brings expectation, and she has learned how to deal with the pressure that comes along with it.

“I feel like my European Youths in 2018, that taught me a lot about dealing with pressure,” she nods. “For my first international, I was kind of an underdog.

“I was probably ranked fourth or fifth but I didn’t know that. Then to come second, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, okay.’ So I had the pressure from the year before. Then I did indoors and ran really well indoors. I had European Athletics interviewing me and stuff like that so I had that pressure.

Going into European Youths, I wasn’t ranked as I would have wanted to be so I feel like I didn’t handle that as well as I should have. I feel like when I actually came through with a gold medal, it taught me a lot about how to manage it and not to really doubt yourself in those situations.

Of course, a scintillating sprint double followed in Baku as she landed gold in the 100m and 200m. Pictures with Ade after the latter tells you all you need to know about how much that meant.

“That was special,” she beams. “So unexpected. So much emotion.”

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rhasidat-adeleke-celebrates-winning-with-her-mother-adewumi-ademola Rhasidat and Ade. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The key to her success is something Adeleke can’t quite put her finger on. Hard work, the support of her family and friends, her faith; it’s a mixture of all really. 

I think it is faith but also support, but also without faith, I don’t know if I would have been able to believe that I could have done something. Like optimism, being able to be optimistic and think you can do it.

“But without a team, I wouldn’t have been able to get to the place where I have been. So I think they go hand in hand, those two are the main things.

“But also hard work and dedication.”

There’s no shortage of support from her school friends, too. Though they show it in a slightly different way. She giggles: “They always just mess about, like, ‘Oh, sorry, can’t talk to you, you’re famous!’

Say a championship is in July so the media and stuff would still be going on until I get to school. Whenever I come in, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, look who it is’ like I’m some celebrity. They’re all just messing. It’s funny, though. It’s good. They’re really supportive.

She’s delighted to see the Irish women’s sprint scene thriving, and getting the recognition it deserves. And Adeleke is happy to been seen as an inspiration and a role model for younger athletes. 

Particularly given her own experiences. 

“I don’t think I even knew any athletes, but I feel like now, with social media, there is so much more coverage,” she continues.

And it is just good to have someone to look up to, because you don’t know if you are able to do it or not until you see someone else that has done it. I think being able to inspire younger people and get more girls into sport is a role I have to play.

“There are a few girls who are happy to see me training and they are smiling and waving, it just makes me really happy, that these girls are giving it a shot and they see other athletes doing it, they want to do it as well. I’m just happy to be able to inspire people.

the-daily-mile-launch-sponsored-by-spar Adeleke is a SPAR ambassador. Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

“It is weird, because at first, I was thinking I’m just a kid as well but I think I got used to it. People will look up to anyone who is doing well, regardless of age. So just try to be a good role model.”

While the Leaving Cert is top of her list of priorities, Adeleke is eyeing a few indoor competitions over the next few weeks and months as she tries to qualify for the July’s World U20 Championships in Kenya.

While she’s part of the women’s senior 4x100m relay team chasing Tokyo 2020 qualification, there’s plenty of work to do and she’ll take everything one step at a time.

All in her stride though, undoubtedly.

“Just try and take everything as it is and not rush too much,” the teen concludes. Not a bad mantra for the next few months 


International athlete and SPAR ambassador Rhasidat Adeleke was on hand to help promote the Daily Mile and SPAR Better Choices

The Daily Mile programme sees primary school children around the country run or jog at their own pace for 15 minutes every day to improve their mental and physical health. 

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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