In the long and illustrious history of Irish athletes taking up a US scholarship – stretching back 73 years to 1948 – not many make an immediate impression as a freshman, especially not in a sprint event.
For Rhasidat Adeleke, any additional pressure or expectation of delivering at the University of Texas – which last year had the seventh largest single-campus enrolment in the US – has also quickly dissipated with two more standout runs at the 93rd edition of the famed Texas Relays over the weekend, including the breaking of an Irish junior (under-20) record set long before she was even born.
Still only 18, the Dublin-born athlete first improved her 200 metres best to 23.40 seconds to make the final, the seventh fastest of the 66 entrants; then, Adeleke clocked another best of 23.27 in the final, finishing sixth, and breaking the Irish junior record of 23.34 which had stood to Emily Maher since the year 2000.
By then Maher had already made a name for herself, the Kilkenny athlete winning a sprint double at the inaugural World Youth Games in Moscow in 1998, aged only 17, and later in 2000 was also part of the Irish women’s 4x400m relay at the Sydney Olympics. Interestingly that 23.34 remained her lifetime 200m best, Maher retiring not long after winning her only national senior 100m title in 2007, also winning the 200m title in 2005.
Adeleke’s early standout runs at the University of Texas, the Austin campus of just over 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students, with over 24,000 faculty and staff, are all the more impressive given the fact she competed so sparingly in 2020 due to Covid-19. Her previous 200m best of 23.52 was set in 2019, the same year she won a rare sprint double at the European Youth Olympics in Baku.
She was poised to go faster last year before Covid-19 brought about a series of cancellations, from her written Leaving Cert exams at Presentation Terenure to the World Under-20 Athletics Championships, set for Nairobi, Kenya (and now rescheduled for this August, one week after the Tokyo Olympics).
Adeleke doesn’t turn 19 until the end of August. her sprint double in Baku in 2019 being the sixth championship medal in the short career of the then 16-year-old (Adeleke was also part of the 4x100m relay team that won the silver medal at the 2018 World Under-20 championships in Finland.)
After a Leaving Cert based on calculated grades for the first time, Adeleke was also suitably qualified for the University of Texas, known as “Public Ivy”, given its high academic standards.
After her 200m record, she was back on the home track at Mike A Myers Stadium just over an hour later, in the Sanya Richards-Ross 4x400-metre invitational, where Texas placed second with a time of 3:28.10, the team being Serenity Douglas, Kennedy Simon, Adeleke and Stacey Ann Williams. Despite a dodgy handover, Adeleke's split was 52.69 seconds.
During her first indoor season, Adeleke was also in record-breaking form when she improved the under-20 indoor 400 record to 53.44 seconds at the Big 12 Championships back in February, the then third fastest time for a European, improving the previous Irish record of 54.19, set by Jenna Bromley in 2016.
Davicia Patterson, also representing the University of Texas and the under-20 400m record holder, improved her 800m best to 2:06.26, looking to make that her best distance for the future it seems. With the main outdoor college competitions still to come over the weeks ahead, both women are poised to run faster again.