Rhasidat Adeleke after completing her sprint double. European Athletics.
Game Recognise Game

'Her time will come' - Sonia O'Sullivan eases up on Adeleke Olympics omission anger

The Cork legend recently hit out at ‘one of the worst decisions ever made by Athletics Ireland’.

IT WAS A golden weekend for Ireland at the European U20 Athletics Championships, one which certainly whet the appetite for what’s to come at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Rhasidat Adeleke, Cian McPhillips and Nick Griggs made it a championships that will live long in the memory, winning four gold medals and matching Ireland’s combined tally across 46 years.

Saturday was an afternoon like no other; 18-year-old sensation Adeleke storming to victory in the 200m final, her time of 22.90 smashing her own Irish U20, U23 and senior records and adding to her 100m gold on Friday, before Longford teenager McPhillips impressively won the 1500m in 3:46.55, and Griggs clocked 8:17.18 to triumph in the 3,000m at just 16.

The great Sonia O’Sullivan spoke for the masses upon reflection with The42 yesterday.

“It’s fabulous,” she beamed. “To see Ireland top of the medal table with four gold medals, I mean we’ve never been there before at any level. It was really fantastic to see that.

“I think it was done without too much expectation. The athletes, they just went out there, they performed and they delivered the results. I think that sometimes is the best way to go: not to put too much pressure or expectation on people, but let them perform and see what they deliver.”

The one sour note for O’Sullivan afterwards was Adeleke’s Olympics omission. The Sydney 2000 silver medallist across 5,000m made her feelings known fairly quickly on Twitter, slamming the decision not to select the Tallaght sprinting star for the Tokyo Games.

In response to a tweet from Irish journalist Cathal Dennehy questioning the fact that Adeleke was not selected for the 4x400m mixed relay squad, O’Sullivan vented:

“This will be looked back upon as one of the worst decisions ever made by Athletics Ireland. Clearly one of the current best Irish athletes, an outlier where exceptions should be made and brave decisions taken. Will always be looked back upon as one of those ‘What if’ decisions.”

O’Sullivan’s tweet was widely shared — and the criteria debated — and while she stands by her opinion, the Cobh icon has eased up on her stance upon reflection.

“At this stage, I don’t think we should be discussing that now,” she said yesterday. “The team is set and I think we have to focus on the athletes who are out there competing.

“There was an opportunity for Rhasidat to get a spot on the relay team, and it didn’t happen. But as I said, to Rhasidat, ‘You can only change the things you can change. There’s certain things that are out of your control, and if you can’t change something, then you have to do what you can.’

“And she did that last week, going out and winning two gold medals and producing one of the most exciting races in the 4×4 when she really went after it and tried to get Ireland into the medals.

Her time will come and her chance will come, it just would have been a little bit of experience as a young athlete to go to the Olympics in the relay situation. But I think deep down, she really wants to go there in an individual event, and that’s what she was trying to do this year, which resulted in why she didn’t get on the relay team.

“There’s lots of different circumstances around it, it’s one of those things that we’ve all moved on from now, particularly Rhasidat by going out there and winning those two gold medals last weekend.

“She’ll be able to have a bit of a rest now before she goes back to university and gets ready for next year. I think she may have already qualified for the World Championships in Eugene next year, or she will definitely be on track to do that. I think she’s just got to to reset and refocus and look ahead to what she can do in the future.”

Last weekend marked another landmark one in Adeleke’s meteoric rise.

Having made her international breakthrough at just 15 with a simply stunning 200m gold at the European U18s Championships in Gyor in 2018, she’s gone from strength to strength since.

A sprint double at the European Youth Olympics followed the next summer, while her recent U20 exploits came after her first year Stateside. There’s no two ways about it, her future is a bright one.

“Rhasidat, she’s grown and developed as an athlete, particularly in the past year or so with her move to go to University of Texas and take up a scholarship there,” O’Sullivan continued.

To be in amongst some of the best sprinters in the world, I’m sure she trained a lot differently than she had been in the past. You can just see that with her development and the results that she’s had this year. That was definitely a big change for her and something very positive that I’m sure she can only get better from here.

“Your first year is always very difficult at university, and particularly this year, because it’s been under unusual circumstances with Covid and the whole university experience would be very different.

“For her to take up that opportunity to go out there, it’s a bit of a risk sometimes when you change up your whole coaching regime that’s got you to where you’re at, which is a very high level, then to change things and whether it will work out or not. It’s obviously worked very well for her this year and hopefully it will continue to do so over the next few years.”

sonia-osullivan-attends-the-event O'Sullivan at the 2018 Cork City Sports International Athletics Meet. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

Speaking from Leeside, where she is temporarily based ahead of analysis duty with RTÉ for the Games following her coaching stint with Nike Athletics Stateside, O’Sullivan was keen to focus on the Olympics and the Irish athletes competing in Tokyo.

Asked which athletes we should keep a particularly close eye on, two immediately sprung to mind for the 51-year-old, who is really looking forward to the Games as a whole:

“Definitely Thomas Barr in the 400m hurdles. He’s had a great year so far this year. He’s been running very competitive times, he got himself down to 48 seconds again, so he’s heading in the range of times that should help him to progress through from the first round to the semi-final, and depending on the draw and everything else, hopefully he can get into the finals.

“Once you’re in the final, that’s when you can start thinking about what you can actually achieve, or how close to the medals you can get. He’s been there before, so he knows what it takes. Thomas is definitely someone to be supporting and following along the way in the athletics. He’d be the biggest stab to get into the final.

“And then of course, Ciara Mageean has been ranked 10th in the world for the past year or so over 1500m. Hopefully she can follow on from being in the final at the World Championships in 2019, a bit of a strange year last year, but she still had some good races, ran some fast times, broke Irish records.

“So she’ll be on track — she always performs well at the championships and she’s been improving this year, so hopefully, she’ll also get into the final.”


Olympics Silver Medallist Sonia O’Sullivan is working with the Olympics Federation of Ireland and FBD to show support for Team Ireland athletes competing at the Tokyo Olympic Games. FBD Insurance is a principal sponsor to Team Ireland since September 2018. It is this same spirit of support and protection that sees FBD as Ireland’s largest homegrown insurer support more than 500,000 policyholders for over 50 years.

- Another Sonia O’Sullivan interview will follow on The42 in the coming days.

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman and Gavan Casey look ahead to the big one this weekend in Cape Town. Become a member for loads of more rugby podcasts and video analysis shows:

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