Israel Olatunde and Rhasidat Adeleke move onto the major sprinting stage in Munich

Andrew Coscoran also nails spot in 1,500m final against Jakob Ingebrigsten

Early last January on a cold, bright morning Israel Olatunde sat outside the Sports Centre in UCD and told me of his hopes as a 100-metre sprinter.

“For sure, I think about breaking 10 seconds one day. If I just keep doing what I need to do, that can come. The faster you get, the harder it is to improve... But I also love this sport, really want to see how far I can take it, go to the very top.”

On Monday morning here in Munich as the hot sun broke through the transparent roof of the old Olympic Stadium, Olatunde won his 100m heat in 10.19 seconds – only Paul Hession’s 15 year-old national record of 10.18 is faster by an Irishman, and he enjoyed the handier tailwind.

Olatunde is 20 and has promptly moved into big company here in Munich – he’ll have Italy’s Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs three lanes to his inside in this evening’s third of three semi-finals (7.19pm Irish time) – although the other Irish started day one with more mixed fortunes.


There will be an Irish presence in Thursday’s men’s 1,500m final where Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigsten will look to defend one half of the distance double he achieved as a 17-year-old in Berlin four years ago, Andrew Coscoran sealing his spot as one of the four fastest qualifiers after nailing seventh in the second heat, clocking 3:38.74 behind Poland’s winner Michat Rozmys who ran 3:37.36.

Ingebrigsten won the first heat calmly as he does in 3:38.48, that race seeing some considerable bumping around at the bell, recent Irish 1,000m record breaker Luke McCann badly chopped by the Italian Ossama Mesleko, who was later disqualified.

McCann was caught again on the back stretch, still appeared to recover around the final bend before fading on the straight to finish 10th (later ninth) in 3:40.98.

Coscoran was decidedly more satisfied with his race: “Yeah, qualified with the small q, but great to have an Irish presence in the final, it’s about qualifying with as much in reserve too,” he said. “I was in the position I wanted to be, up near the front, and it was definitely an advantage running that second heat, knowing something around 3:38 would likely see you through.”

Ingebrigsten meanwhile is back on the track on Tuesday evening for the 5,000m final, Coscoran conceding the Norwegian is clear favourite in the 1,500m too, but he’s in that big company now too – his first major championship final outdoors – and that’s good enough for now.

Jacobs was among the 12 leading ranked athletes who secured a bye into the 100m semi-finals (the same goes for the 200m and 400m), and is form is uncertain – nowhere near the 9.80 seconds he clocked to win in Tokyo, and he scratched from the semi-finals of last month’s World Championships in Oregon.

Olatunde starts in lane seven, his new best of 10.19 seconds ranking him joint fifth of the eight based on this season best: the top in each semi-final,

“It was kind of a blur, but when I crossed the line I looked over, saw 10.1 and was like, ‘yep, that’s good,’” said Olatunde, a student at UCD. “That’s where it matters – to produce your best at championships. I’m happy to come out with the win, but now it’s all about the semi-finals.”

Also earning ranking qualifying spots straight into today’s 400m semi-finals were Chris O’Donnell and Rhasidat Adeleke; O’Donnell’s best of 45.26 set in in Madrid last month put him second on the Irish all-time list behind David Gillick, although he likely need to run quicker to make the final here.

The women’s event will see Dutch runner Femke Bol embrace the challenge of the 400m flat and hurdles double, and for Adeleke, who turns 20 later this month, there’s a real shot at making the final too given she fell just one place short at the World Championships last month.

Her time in Oregon of 50.81 was just shy of her national 400m record of 50.70, leaving her fourth in the semi-final, just 0.16 away from qualification. Another time like that would likely see here through, even if she’s coming up on 50 races already run this year between college and country

“The competitor in me still wants more and wants a world final, but it’s an achievement in itself,” she said after Oregon: she’ll start the third of three semi-finals in lane four, Bol two lanes outside here. It will be fast.

Phil Healy and Sharlene Mawdsley went in the first round heats proper of the 400m, looking to progress too. Healy faded to seventh in her heat, running 53.10 and describing it as “the worst race of her season by far”, while Mawdsley, a late replacement for Sophie Becker, finished sixth in her heat in 52.63

Earlier in the day Fionnuala McCormack went into the women’s marathon with her own considerable medal expectations and in the end the look of disappointment on her face said it all.

There is no consolation in being so close in a race as long as the marathon, McCormack’s seventh place coming after another typically gutsy effort from the Irish woman who was running in medal contention until seven of the 42.1km remained.

At that point a lead group of six women slowly broke clear, McCormack detached by around 10m and try as she did she couldn’t reconnect. Something was a little off and in marathon running that’s inevitably magnified although McCormack was making no excuses.

In a thrilling finish, Aleksandra Lisowska from Poland won the gold medals by six seconds, clocking 2:28:36 ahead of Matea Parlov Kostro of Croatia, with the Dutch woman Nienke Brinkman holding on for the bronze just ahead of Germany’s Miriam Dattke, both given the same time of 2:28.52.

McCormack clocked 2:29:25, a season best, the championship also doubling as team race – Ann Marie McGlynn finishing 29th in 2:38.26, with Aoife Cooke 34th in 2:40.37, which gave Ireland a fifth place finish overall.

“Disappointing is probably the only word I can use to describe it right now,” McCormack said at the finish, still another brave run on the hot streets of Munich.

Irish Athlete Tuesday Schedule (all Irish time):

9.15am Women’s 1500m Heats: Ciara Mageean, Sarah Healy

11.25am Men’s 400m semi-final: Chris O’Donnell

12.00pm Women’s 400m semi-final: Rhasidat Adeleke

7.19pm: Men’s 100m semi-final: Israel Olatunde

8.08pm Men’s 5000m Final: Darragh McElhinney, Brian Fay

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics