Israel Olatunde becomes fastest Irish man ever as he nails sixth in European 100m final

Sprinter breaks Irish record and is only 0.04 seconds outside a medal

We came to witness Jakob Ingebrigtsen prove himself as the best middle-distance runner in the world - or possibly of all time - and ended up in awe of the 20-year-old Irish sprinter Israel Olatunde. After the lights dimmed, he mixed it with the eight fastest men in Europe — and left as the fastest Irish man that has ever lived.

Something about these European Athletics Championships in Munich said they’d be a special and memorable one, and everything that unfolded inside the old Olympic Stadium on the second night of finals agreed, and that’s assuming you could hear yourself think that way.

Few if anyone expected an Irish sprinter to make the 100 metres final, few it seemed other than the Dundalk-born Olatunde himself, who earlier in the night ran a beautifully timed and super composed semi-final to finish second to Italy’s Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs, who took win in 10 seconds flat to Olatunde’s 10.20 — the second fastest time of his life.

Few if anyone expected there was better still to come, Olatunde utterly unfazed by the occasion or the atmosphere as he nailed sixth place in the final, his time of 10.17 seconds eclipsing the Irish record of 10.18 seconds which had stood to Paul Hession going all the way back to 2007.


Olatunde’s reaction said it all, falling to the track in prayer and then wrapping himself around an Irish tricolour, at 20 years old in his first major outdoor championship just .04 off the bronze medal.

Jacobs duly took the win, running in lane six, just inside of Olatunde in lane seven, his 9.95 equalling the European Championship record; in second was Britain’s defending champion Zharnel Hughes who ran 9.99, his team-mate Jeremiah Azu running a lifetime best of 10.13 to win the bronze. Then came the Slovakian Ján Volko, fourth in 10.16, Mouhamadou Fall of France fifth in 10.17 given the same time as Olatunde in sixth.

The wind was a negligible +0.1m/s, only .004 of a second separating the Irish sprinter from fifth, in this his first major championship final, and after he ran 10.20, the second fastest time of his life, in the semi-final just two hours previously.

He is the reigning Irish senior 100 metres champion, Olatunde first winning that title in Santry in June 2021, a month after turning 19; in the next event that year, Rhasidat Adeleke won the women’s senior 100 metres title, two months before she turned 19, ensuring both senior sprint titles in Ireland belonged to teenagers, with plenty of other similarities though, including Daniel Kilgallon as one of their early sprint coaches.

Olatunde was raised in Dundalk, came up through Dún Dealgan AC, and now runs for UCD, an Ad Astra Elite scholar three years into his computer science degree. He never won an Irish schools title, now he is the fastest Irish man of all time. The sub-10 second barrier now beckons.

It was this time in Berlin four years ago when Ingebrigtsen first afforded us some fun headlines — Ingebrilliant. Ingecredible, Ingesane — when at age 17 he already won what no other man, woman or boy could win in the long history of European distance running.

His 1,500m-5,000m double was the first in the then 84-year history of the European Athletics Championships, and he’s one half to completing that again here in Munich, winning the longer distance with an all-conquering last two laps which saw him win in 13:31.13 from the Spanish runner Mohamed Katir, who chased in vain down the home stretch to take second in 13:22.98, as the now 21-year-old Norwegian said watch me go, and go he did, his last four laps run in three minutes and 57 seconds.

There were two brave and strong Irish performances in that final too, Darragh McElhinney from Cork keeping himself near the very front only to fade to 16th in the last 200m, clocking 13:39.11, while Brian Fay did something of the opposite, finishing like the proverbial train in the last half lap to nail eighth, running 13:31.87.

It was here 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, clearly suggesting Hession’s 15 year-old national record was under threat. His 10.17, on the second race of the night, another clear indication of how much faster is to come.

In possibly the most unlikely finish to the men’s decathlon, Niklas Kaul ran 4:10.04 in the final event, the 1,500m, to move into the gold medal position.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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