Rhasidat Adeleke: 'I'll take my blessing and hopefully one day I'll be ...

14 days ago
Rhasidat Adeleke

She wanted more. Of course she did. You don’t carry Rhasidat Adeleke’s rare, outlying ability and her burning ambition to the start line of a major final and walk away content with silver. But when the disappointment of not winning gold had subsided, when the 21-year-old Dubliner saw that time – her best ever, an Irish record – she knew she could do no more.

There was immense pride to be drawn from that, as there was from winning her first individual medal for Ireland as a senior. Likely the first of many.

Sometimes in sport, your best just isn’t enough. Sometimes all you can do is empty the tank, exhaust every fibre of your being, and live with the fact that someone else was just better on the night. That was the case for Adeleke at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico on Monday night, the Dubliner producing a massive Irish 400m record 49.07 to finish second to Natalia Kaczmarek, who clocked a Polish record of 48.98. Bronze went to Lieke Klaver of the Netherlands in 50.08, while Sharlene Mawdsley paid a heavy price for going out hard, chasing a medal, and came home eighth in 51.59.

The silver wasn’t all Adeleke wanted, but at this point in her career, it was enough. Enough to leave her beaming a bright, brilliant smile once the initial disappointment had subsided, once the realisation set in that she'd produced the best run of her career to win a European medal – all at the tender age of just 21.

In the aftermath, there was disappointment mixed with pride, and justifiably so, given that as important as this event was, her eyes have long been trained much further down the tracks to the biggest event of all in Paris. “I would have loved the gold, but I could have not made the final, there’s so many things that could have gone wrong,” she said. “I’ll take my blessing and hopefully one day I’ll be able to get my gold.” One day, inevitably, she will.

A couple of hours before the race, the Tallaght native was resting on a massage table in the warm-up area when Ciara Mageean stopped by with her gold following the 1500m ceremony. Adeleke, of course, already knew what they looked like, having won one with the mixed relay two nights before. But athletics, ultimately, is an individual sport and all in the minds of athletes, all medals are not quite created equal. Soon after her close-up look at Mageean’s individual gold medal, Adeleke started her warm-up, her mind fixated on getting one for herself.

Still, wanting and getting it are two very different things, and the 400m is an event where much can go wrong, given the need to distribute your energies with maximum efficiency. While Adeleke is by far the quicker 200m runner, it was Kaczmarek who blasted through the opening half, hitting halfway in 23.59, putting pressure on the Irishwoman in the lane inside her. At that point Adeleke one metre behind, splitting 23.69.

“I wanted to make sure I always kept myself in contention, get to 200m, then make my move,” she said.

That she did, Adeleke eating into the advantage around the final turn, drawing alongside and then slightly ahead of Kaczmarek with 100 metres to run. This was the battle everyone expected, and now the race was truly on, the pair running shoulder to shoulder down the home straight, but soon the slightest falter began to emerge in Adeleke’s stride, the fatigue taking its toll. Perhaps the effort in helping Ireland to mixed relay gold was in there somewhere, a race Kaczmarek had bypassed, with Adeleke admitting her legs were “a bit heavy” during the 400m semi-final.

Kaczmarek, meanwhile, maintained her form with military precision in those final metres, the 26-year-old world silver medallist proving too strong, edging Adeleke to gold. There was visible disappointment on Adeleke’s face in the aftermath, though that dissipated when she realised how fast she’d run – her 49.07 taking a big chunk off the Irish record of 49.20 she’d run to win the NCAA exactly on the same day a year ago.

Having finished fifth in the European final two years ago while still a teenager, and fourth in last year’s world final, now, at last, the Tallaght sprinter had her medal moment. “I really wanted to win, but my coach said before, ‘whatever we can do here, we’ll do.’ And to come here a run a personal best, 49.07, I think he’ll be happy. That was a fast race.”

Ahead of the championships Adeleke had asked her coach, Edrick Floreal, if he would taper her training but was met with a swift no, his eyes trained eight weeks up the road to the Paris Olympics. “He said you can run low-49, high-48 without tapering so he knows what he’s saying,” she said. “All credit to him.” 

Adeleke’s time was the fourth fastest in the world this year, and she knows she’s far from the finished product. “We’ve trained through this,” she said. 

“We’ll train again for the next few weeks and hopefully by Paris, we’ll be where we need to be. I didn’t get the gold, but hopefully I’ll get my chance again.” 

European Athletics Championships: Live, RTÉ Two/RTÉ Player, BBC Red Button 

Irish in action, Tuesday (all times Irish) 

9.45am: Men’s 4x400m heats 

10.15am: Women’s 4x400m heats 

11.00am: Men’s 4x100m heats 

8.30pm: Anika Thompson, Laura Mooney, women’s 10,000m final

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