At the tender age of just 17-years old, Rhasidat Adeleke has already made waves across the globe, proving herself to be one of the rising stars in athletics. For someone so young, Adeleke boasts a glittering career which would be the envy of most sprinters.
Adeleke broke onto the scene in 2017 at just 14 years-old, where she won the junior sprint double at the Irish National Schools Championships. A few months later, she won silver in the 200m at the European Youth Olympic Festival – this was very young even by Youth Olympics standards. This summer Adeleke won an unprecedented sprint double at the European Youth Olympics in Baku, to bring the total number of individual championship medals she has won over the past three summers to an astonishing six.
Everything in Adeleke’s career has happened at speed, and if her legs move in a blur when she is on the track, her brain whirs every bit as quickly. Despite being one of the most talented athletes in the country and if not the world, the most striking aspect about the gifted young athlete is her modesty, maturity and relaxed nature.
The rapid runner currently holds an incredible personal best in the 100 metres of 11.68 seconds and 23.52 seconds in the 200m. Yet when asked when she realised she was good her humility shines through.
“I guess I realised I was fast when I came second in the 200m at the European Youth Olympics. It made me think that maybe I can do something with this. But at the same time you have to be realistic. I may be fast now but competing at senior level is a whole different level so there’s no guarantees”.
Wise beyond her years, Adeleke is not quick to forget her support network whom without their help, she would not be where she is today. Without sponsors whom she is open to working with, her mom has sacrificed a lot to put her in the position she is now.
“I am so grateful for the support of my mom. She’s like a full time taxi, getting me and my sister to where we need to be. She goes to all the major competitions and her support really means a lot. My whole family are very supportive and are always on the side-lines cheering me on. I am very grateful to my mom who goes out of her way to support my dreams. Everything adds up from the M50 tolls to travelling to support me at major competitions. Parents have a big part in funding young athletes and I truly appreciate what my mom does for me.”
While it is easy to get caught up in chasing her dreams, Rhasidat Adeleke is very level-headed and reiterates “running won’t last forever”. Adeleke is under no illusions that there is life after athletics and is determined not to get too far ahead of herself.
“People sometimes say “Rhasidat you’re sorted for life.” The thing is maybe I’ve reached my peak, I hope not but you never know and there has to be a plan for after sport”.
Many former athletes find it hard to adjust to conventional working life once they leave professional sport behind. It’s something Adeleke wants to avoid. Although running is a huge part of her life, she values her education and friendship.
“I’m 17, I do like to spend time with friends and enjoy being a teenager.”
When it comes to school, Adeleke tries to stay on top of the work. Although at times, it can be difficult to balance athletics with her studies and friends, Adeleke makes it work. Being disciplined with her time and constantly remembering the long term objective is what drives her to give her best all the time.
“It’s definitely a bit hectic. During the summer when I don’t have school it’s easy so I can train on a flexible schedule. But during the school term I have everything planned out so if I’m late for something at the start of the day it has a knock on effect. It’s difficult but I’ve learned to deal with it. When I’m doing homework or study I just try to put my phone away and leave my friends for a while – I know it will all be worth it in the end.”
Adeleke is currently balancing studying with competing internationally. This year she begins her Leaving Cert year in Presentation Community College, Terenure. She has plans to go to go to college next year, although like most teenagers is not quite sure what she would like to study just yet.
The six-foot Dublin teenager is already fielding approaches from several American universities, looking to secure her on a scholarship. In spite of this she is also exploring the options available to her in both Ireland and the UK as she tries to keep an open mind.
“I’ might stay in Dublin but I am open minded to see what is best for me as an athlete.”
Adeleke first started running at the age of five, where she competed at the primary school Track and Field Championships in Santry. After winning the 100 metres six years on the bounce, her athletics coach recommended her to join Tallaght Athletics Club where she worked with Coach Johnny Fox. She now works with Athletics Ireland’s National Sprints Coordinator, Daniel Kilgallon.
It hasn’t only been athletics. A naturally gifted athlete, Adeleke tried her hand at many different sports at a young age, including basketball, camogie and Gaelic football. Basketball was her favourite and she was pretty good at it too. Adeleke captained her school’s under-16 basketball team at just 14 to league success. Unfortunately due to knee pain, she was forced to give it up but admits she loved the team atmosphere of the sport.
“I decided to pursue athletics, during my growing period. I would love to still be playing Basketball but running is easier on my knees. I loved the team sport environment and it was really fun playing basketball.”
While athletics can predominately be an individual sport, Adeleke has been able to experience the team aspect when it comes to the relay. The Tallaght AC runner was part of the historic 4x100m team of Molly Scott, Gina Akpe-Moses, Ciara Neville and Patience Jumbo-Gula who secured a silver medal at the IAAF World U20 Championships.
This was Ireland's first ever relay medal at these underage championships and has been one of many successes of Irish underage athletics in the past 24 months – a blossoming generation of talent.
“I definitely have a great relationship with the girls, we’re all really good friends. We run really fast for each other”.
“When you see your peers doing well, it drives you on to achieve more and gives you the belief that you can be successful too. We all have great pride running for our country seeing our athletes take medals on a global stage is really great for Irish Athletics.”
In July earlier this year, Adeleke won her sixth and seventh underage medal for Ireland at the European Youth Olympics in Baku, Azerbaijan. The 17 year-old put on two frightening performances as she dominated the field in both the 100m and 200m. It was pure shock and delight for Adeleke as initially she had only planned to run the 200m.
“It was quite a shock to win the 100 metres, I had literally just decided a month before the competition to enter so to come away with two gold medals was totally unexpected. After winning the 100 metres I must have had less than 3 hours sleep the night before the 200 metre race at 9am the next day so I was so happy to win both”.
Dealing with the pressure and nerves are a big part of the sport. With experience Adeleke has learned to conceal this on race day.
“Sometimes I get a bit nervous but nerves are good, it means you care. I just try not to overthink things, I trust in God, my training, my coach and the process. If I just run my race that’s all I can ask for and hope everything works out in the end”
Adeleke is excited to help put Ireland on the map as the country continues to transition into what seems to be a golden age of sprinters. Having been born in Dublin to Nigerian parents, representing any other country but Ireland hasn’t been an option. Despite this, Adeleke’s background and story is one which continues to inspire a new diverse and multicultural Ireland.
“It’s great to inspire generations to come and that’s what it’s all about. It’s really nice and very motivating to get messages. It’s great to see that people appreciate what you are doing.”
Adeleke’s next big target is the U20 World Juniors in Kenya in July 2020. After that she has long term goals, which on the basis of her underage career aren’t far-fetched.
“I hope to consistently compete at World Championships, Diamond Leagues and of course the Olympics. I think realistically I’m hopeful that the 2024 Olympics can be my first”
The talented athlete is extra-ordinarily humble and modest. Yet when she takes to the track her self-belief is radiating. Undoubtedly with the wise head on her shoulders she is destined for big things. Watch this space.