Sonia O’Sullivan: Chance to show appreciation of Rhasidat Adeleke at the National Championships

All Irish athletes qualified for the Paris Olympics could race at the end of this month in Santry’s Morton Stadium

Last year Rhasidat Adeleke turned up for the National Championships to meet supporters even though she couldn't race. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

One of the first dates to go into my racing diary every summer was the National Championships. Especially in an Olympic year. It always felt important to be there, both for myself, and for all who supported Irish athletics.

So before Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996), Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004) I raced in one event or another and sometimes two, winning the 800m and 1,500m before heading off the Sydney Olympics, 24 years ago this summer.

The hope and expectation is that all those Irish athletes qualified for next month’s Paris Olympics will race this year’s championships, set for the Morton Stadium in Santry next Saturday and Sunday week (June 29th/30th), including Rhasidat Adeleke.

Adeleke will feel it’s important for her to be there. It’s also the perfect chance for the public to come out and show their support and appreciation in that truly positive way, cheering her on in her hometown of Dublin, after the three medals she won at the European Championships in Rome earlier this month.


Adeleke has already moved well on from those medals, two in the relay (gold in the mixed 4x400m, and silver in the women’s 4x400m) and silver in her individual 400m, as her focus is now entirely on the Paris Olympics.

She had to withdraw from last year’s championships because of injury, but still she came out to Santry to sign autographs and pose for photographs. It’s possible she will race only 200m this year, which is on the Saturday, something to note for anyone considering only going to Santry on the Sunday.

For me, racing the National Championships wasn’t always ideal in terms of timing, and before Athens, I was away training in Madrid, but I still came home to run that year. There was a special dispensation then that you could request a bye from the heats, which some considered unfair on the other runners. But if an Irish athlete had already qualified for the Olympics, and everything was up front, it wasn’t unreasonable, and further encouraged our participation.

Back then every Irish athlete was also quietly told that the expectation was we would run. There was no get-out clause, unless you were properly sick or injured, only in recent years more of our top athletes have opted to skip the championships.

So the hope is that all the medal winners from Rome will be in Santry next weekend. It’s also the designated weekend for national championships on the World Athletics calendar, so it doesn’t clash with any international meetings.

If you look at the US national championships that start on Friday and double as their Olympic Trials, athletes have no choice but to compete; and if they don’t finish in the top-three in their event, and don’t have the qualifying time, they won’t be selected for Paris. End of story.

All the British athletes are also required to race at their national championships next weekend. While many top athletes use this part of the season to train at altitude, Jakob Ingebrigtsen has already said he’s coming down from his base in St Moritz to compete in the Norwegian championships next weekend, staged in his hometown of Sandnes, as he prepares to defend his Olympic 1,500m title in Paris.

Most finals at our National Championships next weekend are being staged on the Sunday afternoon in a compact programme from 1pm-4pm, and because there are no qualifying marks, any registered senior athlete can enter and potentially line up alongside the biggest stars of the sport.

As much as the athletes always express their gratefulness for the support, this is the biggest weekend of the year when those same supporters can come out and give the athletes a send-off before the Paris Olympics, and the biggest sporting stage of all.

Although participation at the National Championships is also part of the selection criteria, there is no direct link to the athletes’ results at the championships and their potential selection for the Irish team. This is usually the case in countries where there is greater depth and more athletes qualified than there are places available, as only three athletes can be selected per event for each country.

However, that depth is increasing in Irish athletics in some events. The women’s and men’s 1500m are both likely to send the full quota of athletes to Paris, and if a fourth runner happens to hit the mark, suddenly the finishing places in Santry may become critical.

There are also World Athletics points available for placing that can help to boost an athletes’ rankings, which could mean ending up in a position to be invited to fill the field for Paris when all automatically qualified athletes have declared their intentions.

It’s a bit of a backdoor system, but it’s also a method for young athletes to get a leg up and opportunity to gain some experience and see where they stand and what’s truly required to compete at the global level.

The last date for qualifying for Paris in athletics is June 30th, the same day as the National Championships, after which there is a quick scramble to determine which athletes will be added to the automatic qualifiers.

There are currently five Irish athletes within the World Athletics ranking quota, as well as the 10 Irish athletes automatically qualified, and then two relay teams. It may seem complicated looking in from the outside, but the reality is there are opportunities for the Irish team to nearly double in size in the days following the championships on Sunday week.

Irish athletes supported by Sport Ireland funding are also required to participate in Santry, unless in exceptional circumstances, so you would also hope the athletes give the championships the respect that they deserve, and also the public the races that they deserve to see live on home soil.

For me, it’s hard to imagine why any athlete would want to miss their national championships, or would even consider it an option. It’s still one of the first dates that goes into my diary, as it should be for any athlete.