AthleticsWhole New Ball Game

This week Rhasidat Adeleke performed, and the people spoke

Athletes like Adeleke don’t come around that often, athletes who naturally belong and thrive in the thin air of the larger global events

Rhasidat Adeleke celebrates winning a silver medal after the women's 4x400m relay final. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Just as Rhasidat Adeleke was bringing a close to her remarkable week in the European Championships with a team silver medal in the 4x400m women’s relay on Wednesday evening, some of those who were denied a platform by the electorate in the recent local and European elections fled back to the one that will rarely refuse them access. X.

Adeleke provided a wonderful but triggering cameo as she sped to three medals in Rome, including gold in the mixed 4x400m relay and an individual silver in the 400m. She elevated Ireland in the world of sport with times to die for, her performances permitting people to freely dream about better things for track and field in the Olympic Games in Paris.

Not since Sonia O’Sullivan travelled the world collecting medals in the 1990s and to the Sydney Olympics for a silver has there been a similar frisson of can-do about a young Irish athlete.

Still, as Adeleke’s six-foot frame glided around the track in the Stadio Olimpico faster than any other Irish women, a shouty but determined rump limped back to their nerve centre, the bedroom and bedsit to bash out bad spelling and incoherent slurs.

READ MORE

The insults were prosaic, the racism unsophisticated. “Irish athletes have trained all their lives just to see opportunities taken away from them by Africans.” That post was seen 22,000 times. Almost 700 people liked it.

Adeleke provided the illusion of effortlessness and control, her upright gait and those endlessly long legs delivering in each run what she had promised over the last 12 months.

Rhasidat Adeleke takes silver in 400m at European ChampionshipsOpens in new window ]

It was a mind-changing team effort from the Irish male and female athletes with Adeleke a shimmering presence in her races. Fuelled by confidence she took on and beat the best of Europe. That she was briefly downcast and disappointed by finishing second in the 400m final was a glance into her competitor’s heart, an athlete who has winning spliced into her DNA.

Chutzpah flooded the arena as she unapologetically shrank at the emergence of a silver medal when gold was so close and within her.

Hands resting on her hips, her momentary expression of hurt and annoyance that Polish track star Natalia Kaczmarek had the speed to run her down on the home straight to win gold, was not just a snapshot of abandonment but more sharply an image of inner appetite and desire.

“Honestly, do you know what,” she said in the on-track interview. “When I crossed the line and realised I came second, I was devastated. I really wanted it.”

Rhasidat Adeleke after team-mate Sophie Becker handed her the baton in the women's 4x400m relay. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Adeleke then opened our eyes, explaining that she and her coach had decided to train through the European Championships and save the taper for the Olympics. A bold and calculated risk.

Back in the election counting houses in Ireland the migrant candidates were outpacing self-appointed patriots. More than 100 people from migrant backgrounds ran for council seats in the election, compared with 56 five years ago.

In a south Dublin count centre, a well-known far-right live streamer was escorted away by a uniformed garda, accompanied by private security. Eliminated on count 14, he polled 886 votes.

It made for an unsavoury but real-time backdrop to the week, a young black, Irish success story commanding the narrative in Rome and burning her name deeper into the sporting tree as the country rejected the people who despise her for who and what she is. It also made us pause for a moment.

For a split-second we could take a screengrab of the life of Adeleke has been given and the haters she must face.

“Taking an opportunity away from a real Irish person that worked very hard to be left behind by some import”. X again and seen 22,000 times with 989 likes. Facts are never their strong suite but no less insulting to Adeleke, born in Dublin to Nigerian parents in 2002 and proudly Tallaght.

Athletes like Adeleke don’t come around that often, athletes who naturally belong and thrive in the thin air of the larger global events, athletes who feel and believe it is their destiny, who can see it, who demand attention and take control and ownership of the space they occupy.

Rhasidat Adeleke: ‘I just feel it was our turn to win a championship medal’Opens in new window ]

Excellence in someone so young and a frame of mind to conquer the world, Adeleke, this week grew stronger into her place as a modern Irish athelete, her visibility and poise, her natural presence apparent in the heat of the European Championships and her majestic, powered-up physique everything that Irish athletics had been hoping for.

The ripple effect of her success and her impact on those Irish kids who look like her and have walked a mile in her shoes is immeasurable and permanent. As she prospers in the sport, other mindsets consumed by victimhood and resentment will continue to see a 21-year-old woman athlete as an existential threat.

This week and last in the culture wars, a battle for hearts and minds took place. Adeleke, whether she knew it or not, was part of that and like Israel Olatunde, Adam Idah and Michael Obafemi always will be. The good news is Adeleke performed, and the people spoke.