Rising Irish runners see another summer of medals stretch out before them

Young athletes ready for European Under-20 Championships in Boras, Sweden next week

It’s tough sometimes trying to squeeze everything into the summer holidays. Your first few driving lessons. Some proper chill-out Netflix time. Back on the European athletics stage trying to win more medals for your country.

For rising Irish sprinters Patience Jumbo-Gula and Rhasidat Adeleke, and distance runners Sarah Healy and Sophie O’Sullivan, that means picking up where they left off last summer. Only on a bigger stage – next week’s European Under-20 Championships in Boras, Sweden also a step up in the level of competition.

There’s nothing to suggest they’re not ready for it – all four athletes are in Dublin this week for another group session with the Accelerator Academy, set up six months ago in association with international law firm Eversheds Sutherland for the sole purpose of assisting in their transition towards the senior ranks, on and off the track.

It so happens that latest session is in communications and media relations. So, suitably briefed, each of them open up on their plans for Boras and beyond. Adeleke is actually targeting the European Youth Olympics in Baku, Azerbaijan later in the month, more medals definitely possible there.


Recently finished the Leaving Cert at Holy Child Killiney, Co Dublin, Healy already has two European under-18 gold medals, in the 1,500m and 3,000m, both won over those magical three days in Hungary at the start of last July.

The goal for Boras is the 1,500m only (there is 3,000m and 5,000m at under-20 level), though her time of 4:09.25 from last summer is still the top-ranked time of the event entries.

“It’s just the 1,500m this time, hopefully get through to the final,” she says. “It just wasn’t really possible to double this time, the two finals on the same day this time, and being under-20 this year, everything is going to be more difficult. The girls are that bit older, it’s my first year under-20, but then it’s nice to be going in with less pressure, and you want to be competing with the best.”

There was interest from America, but I never really considered about going away. I just don't think it would work for me

Healy polished off her preparations with an excellent run over 2,000m in Budapest on Tuesday night, posting fifth in a world-class field in 5:45.23. “That was a cool experience, and I’ve only raced on 1,500m this season, after concentrating on the Leaving Cert.”

By coincidence Healy is already eyeing up a career in law, having decided against taking the US scholarship route. “Yes, I’m looking at UCD, and happy to stay at home. There was interest from America, but I never really considered about going away. I just don’t think it would work for me. People do go and do very well, but I just think I have everything I need here.”

Growing up

Still, all four junior athletes have a little more growing up to do. They’ve been getting good advice, and it helps that behind the Accelerator Academy is one of Ireland’s most experienced athletes, four-time Olympian and 5,000m silver medallist Sonia O’Sullivan (and mother of Sophie).

Between them, the athletes won five championship medals over the course of last summer – three gold, two silver. Adeleke is heading into her Leaving Cert year at Presentation Terenure, and also won gold in Gyor in the 200m, when aged only 15 (she turned 16 in September). O’Sullivan also won silver in the 800m.

I'm very proud and happy with what we've done, but I don't dwell on it. You have to look to the future

Two more silver medals followed last summer at the World under-20 championships in Finland, in the women’s 4x100m relay and for Sommer Lecky in the high jump, Jumbo-Gula and Adeleke both winning silver as part of that relay team.

Driving lessons

Her Leaving Cert complete at St Vincent’s Dundalk, Jumbo-Gula is also eyeing up a place in UCD, to study sociology, and this month has also started taking driving lessons. Part of the motivation there is the fact there is no local track to train on in Dundalk, so she often has to travel to Newry or Dublin. “I’m very proud and happy with what we’ve done, but I don’t dwell on it. You have to look to the future, and always happy to represent the country, it’s an honour, not everyone gets to do it, so you try to enjoy it too.”

O’Sullivan will finish out her final year in school in Australia in November, then take a few months to consider her options, but is looking at the US scholarship route. What is already decided is that having run at under-18 level last year, she is committed to the Irish vest (she also has Australian citizenship).

“I’ll definitely visit some US colleges, that would start the following August, so no rush to decide yet.”

For now the summer is still young, races to run, and medals to be won.

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