Four European gold medals signal promising future for Irish athletics

An Adeleke double and wins from McPhillips and O’Connor break Ireland’s under-20 gold tally

European championship medals aren't often won like this, in such impressive and quick succession, at any level or indeed by any country. Perhaps what makes Ireland's four gold medal haul at the European Under-20 Championships in Tallinn, Estonia, yet more remarkable is the fact there might well have been two more.

After Saturday's heroics – Rhasidat Adeleke completing a sprint double, promptly followed by Cian McPhillips winning the 1,500m and Nick Griggs, still only 16, likewise beating the best of the under-20 Europeans over 3,000m – Ireland sat atop the medal table.

Early in Sunday's concluding session, Diarmuid O'Connor was also in the gold medal position in the decathlon. The Bandon teenager lost some ground over the final events, still setting personal bests in eight of the 10 disciplines, finishing up fourth with an Irish Under-20 record of 7,604 points, smashing the 36-year-old Irish record of 7,336, which had stood to Barry Walsh.

Then, out of the proverbial nowhere, Adeleke appeared to be chasing her third gold medal in the 4x400m relay: despite taking the baton in last place, the Dublin sprinter scorched the track and got up to third entering the homestretch, before her effort of the weekend began to take a toll, as well it might: the Irish women still finished fifth in a national Under-20 record of 3:37.39, Adeleke still recording the fastest split of anyone with her 52.54 seconds.


As if Adeleke's omission from the Irish 4x400m mixed relay for Tokyo wasn't contentious enough already, her effort in Tallinn underlined it: though she doesn't turn 19 until next month, the Olympic experience may well have proven priceless.

Still, it was another fruitful weekend in her rising career as Adeleke ran head and shoulders above her rivals on Saturday, adding the 200m title to her name – improving her Irish senior record in the process. Adeleke took the win in 22.90 seconds, her now eighth underage sprint medal in all.

That improved her senior record of 22.96, which she took from Phil Healy back in May, giving a winning margin of more than half a second on her nearest rival, the Dutch sprinter Minke Bisschops, winning silver in 23.55.

“When I decided to do the double I was like, ‘Okay, if I’m doing the double I have to win both’. I just feel like that’s really important to me,” she said. “To actually be able to achieve it and complete it is such a huge relief and such a weight lifted off my shoulders. To be able to do such a thing is great, it’s really hard to do – six rounds and pretty much all at full speed.”

Class and confidence

Within the hour, McPhillips added a third gold medal for Ireland with a brilliant victory in the 1,500m, the Longford teenager oozing class and confidence as he kicked from the front around the final bend, imposing himself impressively down the backstretch.It was properly tactical, too, only McPhillips was never ruffled, winning in 3:46.55 ahead of Dutch runner Rick Van Riel, second in 3:46.69.

He brings this European Under-20 1,500m title back to Ireland for the first time since 2005, when Colin Costello won gold. "Now we have some new and exciting guys coming up in the distance events too," said McPhillips. "I know they're in the sprint events, the decathlon. We're really becoming a proper team that's capable of challenging the big names in Europe. "

Less than half an hour after that class win, Griggs made it gold medal number four for Ireland, winning the 3,000m with another remarkable display of calm and yet utterly confident running. Sticking close to the front of the 15-man final from the gun, Griggs dug for gold with just over 200m remaining, and soon opened up a winning lead, taking the victory in 8:17.18.

Running with Mid-Ulster AC, it was all the more impressive given Griggs endured a close family bereavement just last month, his older brother Joshua tragically killed in a work accident, days before he won the National Junior 3,000m title in Santry. The only other Irish winner of this title was Nick O'Brien back in 1985.

That all came less than 24 hours after Adeleke struck gold in the 100m on Friday, producing another blistering run there from the gun to take that win in 11.34 seconds. Her 100m victory also brought that European sprint title back to Ireland just four years after Gina Apke-Moses won it for the first time in Grosseto, Italy, in 2017. Never before had Ireland brought home four medals, let alone four gold.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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