Rhasidat Adeleke didn’t tell us who or what exactly changed her mind. She was meant to be in Mexico, not Munich, booking a well-earned holiday some weeks ago to relax and recover after a properly exhausting season which had seen her race 47 times already — indoors and out, for college and country — breaking too many records to recount.
It was likely her coach Edrick Floréal approved, possibly encouraged, Adeleke to reconsider these European Championships, which just a week-and-a-half ago she did. In the hot early afternoon here on Tuesday she ran 51.08 seconds to qualify for the final. Still only 19, that race (which sets off at 9.02pm Irish time) will be number 49 this season.
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, she made no mistake this time, securing the fastest non-automatic qualifying spot by nailing third in her semi-final.
So she’s where she wants to be, the Dublin sprinter gently giddy in the aftermath of her semi-final run when she told us what the experience will mean. She only took to 400m running outdoors this season, taking the Irish record to 50.70, and even if drawn in lane one there will be nothing to lose, only to gain.
Asked how she’d deal with the long wait before that final run she said: “I don’t know probably just sleep all day. I’ll probably just try not to think about the race too much and go into it with an open mind.”
As well she might.
Her progress this season has been truly remarkable, her coach — a two-time Olympic long jumper for Canada — also making the trip to Munich to help ensure the experience is maximised: asked what Floréal told her before her semi-final she spoke of conserving something for the final, clearly their first goal.
“He just told me to get out. I probably could have got out a bit faster but he told me to just get out and relax in the last 100. I just wanted to make sure I got out, but I guess I thought I was comfortable in second. Then I got caught on the line.
“You know, it’s great. It’s important to have these experiences. I’ve been doing the 400 for such a short period that every race I am learning how to run it so each race is an experience in itself. I’m kinda learning about myself and what it takes to run certain times.”
Victory in her semi-final went to Fenke Bol of the Netherlands in 50.60, the runner-up in the 400m hurdles in Oregon looking to double in the flat here too, Cynthia Bolingo from Belgium only passing Adeleke in the closing strides to take second in 50.83. Adeleke qualified as the seventh fastest and feels there is more to come.
“Obviously it is a final, so I will be going balls out, d’you know what I mean. There won’t be any conserving energy or anything, or room for error at the end of the race. There is pressure, a lot of pressure, I put pressure on myself as well. There is always pressure. I am really ambitious.”
Ciara Mageean’s hopes
There will be a third successive European final showdown too for Ciara Mageean, this one looking perhaps the most promising of all, after she cruised through her 1,500m heat, finishing second in a season-best of 4:03.03, only Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui edged ahead of her down the straight. Her final on Friday night now awaits.
Mageean won bronze in 2016, was fourth in Berlin four years ago, and just like she did in the Commonwealth Games final two weeks ago, where she won silver, imposed herself magnificently on the race. With defending champion Britain’s Laura Muir winning the first heat as convincingly the medal hunt will likely be between these three.
“You put yourself up there and if you don’t get gold, hopefully it’s silver,” she said of her final prospects. “But I believe I’m one of the best athletes in that field and I’m going to go out and prove it. You always need to mentally prepare, it’s like going to war. You don’t go in there without putting your mind in the right place, you spend all year putting your body in the right place.
“I’ve taken a close look at their races and Ennaoui ran very well and I’ve taken note of that. Muir is obviously a world-class athlete and she showed me that at Commonwealths. But I went out in that race with the aim of trying to win gold and battle for it and I’ll do the same here.”
No such joy for Sarah Healy in the first heat, the 21-year-old made a promising start, holding a position in the first half of the race before fading to 11th, her 4:10.75 well outside her best. In another typically honest assessment of her race, Healy said the issue may be psychological.
“Obviously it was terrible, I trained the best I ever had since Oregon but I do struggle a lot mentally and I thought I got it sorted, but it’s like my energy just goes. It’s like I don’t care when I’m racing, even though I care so much. If I’d just been a bit tougher I could have kept going, but I just decided to check out again. I keep learning the same lesson at every major championships, so it’s tough.”
Chris O’Donnell was also eying a place in the men’s 400m final after coming to Munich fifth best on times this season, only he too ran short of his best, clocking 45.73 in fifth. Brendan Boyce earlier in the day also moved slowly through the field of the 35km walk to finish 10th, clocking 2:38:03 behind Spain’s gold medal winner Miguel Angel Lopez who took the win in 2:26:49.
Irish Athlete Wednesday Schedule (all Irish time):
10.12am: Men’s 400m hurdles heat: Thomas Barr
9.02pm: Women’s 400m final: Rhasidat Adeleke