Oh wow. A European Championship final in the 400 metres and a teenager from Tallaght mixing it up with the best of them, going again where no Irish woman has gone before.
The rising star that is Rhasidat Adeleke continues.
Rarely if ever are medals won from lane one in this one-lap killer of a race, yet there Adeleke was in joint-third as the eight women rounded the last bend — impossibly close to making the podium it seemed.
By the end of the homestretch she was fifth, rewarded for her super effort with another Irish record — too many already to recount — her 50.53 seconds taking .17 off the mark set in her first real test over the distance. It was also race number 49 this season; you do the math.
At two minutes past 10 the gun went off inside the Olympic, and from that gun she was blazing: Dutch favourite Femke Bol took the win in 49.44, the fastest in Europe this year, from Poland’s Natalia Kaczmarek, her time 49.94, the other Polish runner Anna Kielbasinska coming through in the last 50m to nail third in 50.29, Britain’s Victoria Ohuruogu coming through later again to pip Adeleke for fourth, running 50.51.
Adeleke’s 50.523 is astonishing running by any standard: still all that was going through her mind around that final bend was winning a medal.
“I was just thinking ‘keep going, keep going’, maybe that made me tie up more,” she said. “At first I was disappointed, because I knew I was a medal contender, and maybe distracted myself a by trying to hold on, I just have just kept in a straight line. I knew I lost the medal with 20 metres to go, and maybe a better race judgment I may have held on, but we live and learn and move on.
“I’m 19, but I like to compete against the best at whatever age, that’s the competitor in me. Next year I’ll definitely focus on the 400m, but you know what? I got a national record. I really, really wanted to get a medal, but I’m grateful to be here and show after the long NCAA season I can still compete against the best in Europe.”
Racing in lane one, especially given her inexperience, certainly didn’t help: “No, even in the warm-up track I was coming around the bend, my left quad was getting tight, I thought ‘Oh God this is going to be bad’. I’m much taller too, but I couldn’t let that get to me. Maybe if I was in a middle lane I could have won that medal.”
Still it wouldn’t be an Adeleke story right now if she didn’t somehow surpass a recent previous feat, and after missing the World Championship final in Oregon last month by one place, fifth best in Europe in 50.53 at 19 is plenty good for now.
On to the next Irish final interest, Thomas Barr looking to make the 400m hurdles showdown four years after winning the bronze medal in Berlin, Andrew Coscoran already in the 1,500m final, talking up the chances of all 12 runners in that final, even if gold and silver might be decided already.
That’s because Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigsten is defending second half of the distance double he achieved as a 17-year-old in Berlin: he can win any which way he wants, his most only challenger being Maria Garcia from Spain, who clocked 3:30.20 when finishing fourth at the World Championships in Oregon.
Ingebrigsten was back on the track on Tuesday night, defending his 5,000m title, tiredness means nothing to him. For the other 10 finalists it’s all about what happens behind: if gold and silver is decided between Ingebrigsten and Garcia, bronze is certainly up for grabs:
“Those two guys probably are the class apart,” says Coscoran, “I feel I’m just as good as anyone and can definitely come through. I’ll be aiming for a medal, I know a lot of other guys are too, that’s always the dream. And if you’re not going in to fight for a medal what’s the point in being there. That’s my plan. It will be tough but it’s what I want to do.”
Barr half jested before his heat on Wednesday morning he was delighted to race a qualifying heat, rather than receive an advance booking straight into the European Championship semi-finals. What better practice after all, even for the bronze medal winner from four years ago?
Even though the top three were guaranteed semi-final places, plus the two fastest non-automatic places, the win in 49.49 was important too: it didn’t quite give Barr a more favourable lane draw for the semi-finals, as he’ll start in lane eight. Still, he avoided Kartsen Warholm of Norway, even if not in the 45.94 second shape of Tokyo last summer, still is unquestionably the man to beat. Only the top two, plus the two fastest non-automatic finishers, make Friday night’s final showdown.
Barr will have other fancied medal contender Wilfried Happio from France to contend win, who ran a best of 47.41 this season. “I feel if I can get it right, it’s there,” he said, “I just need to go out like I did in the first half today but finish the race stronger. I felt the gears coming back in training and the rhythm coming back. I’m where I need to be.”
Irish athletes in action Thursday (all times Irish)
8.20am Women’s 3,000m steeplechase Heats: Eilish Flanagan, Michelle Finn
9.10am Men’s 800m Heats: Mark English, John Fitzsimons
9.45am Women’s 800m Heats: Louise Shanahan
10.25 Men’s 400m hurdles semi-finals: Thomas Barr
11.30am Men’s 200m Heats: Marcus Lawler
8.05pm: Men’s 1,500m final: Andrew Coscoran
8.25pm Women’s 5000m Final: Roisin Flanagan