As weekends go, this was as good as it gets for Irish athletics: Two medals, five athletes, and one bright future ahead.
In 32 years, they’d won a grand total of two medals from 16 editions of the World U20 Championships, an event with so much global depth — 150 nations took part this year — that such achievements are wonderfully rare.
So to have two come along at once at the weekend was not just a freakish over-performance by the athletes in green, but a signal that there has never been such talent among the sport’s underage ranks.
On Saturday afternoon in Tampere, Finland, the 4x100m quartet of Molly Scott, Gina Akpe-Moses, Ciara Neville and Patience Jumbo-Gula blitzed around the track to finish second in the final, their national U20 record of 43.90 leaving them just 0.08 behind winners Germany.
On an oppressively warm day, Scott torched around the first bend and handed off to Akpe-Moses, who last year won the European U20 100m title. “Run, run for your life,” Akpe-Moses recalled thinking. “I knew I had to catch the German girl and get as close to her as possible.”
The third leg was run by Ciara Neville, who passed on to Jumbo-Gula after an awkward exchange that cost them a step. Jumbo-Gula swiftly moved from fourth to second, then began to bear down on Germany, but she simply ran out of track.
“I was trying so hard to catch her but she just got away,” said Jumbo-Gula. “But I’m happy we came second; it’s a huge achievement.”
For all the talent in the team, watching trackside was an athlete who would likely have been part of the line-up, 15-year-old Rhasidat Adeleke, who played a starring role in getting them through the semi-final but injured herself in the process.
“I was fine for the first 70m but then I was like, ‘oh my God,’” recalled Adeleke, who felt her hamstring give way midway through her semi-final leg. “I just thought, I have to get this baton to Patience or else they will all hate me. I would hate myself.”
The Jamaican and USA teams both failed to make the final after botched exchanges, setting up a historic day for the Irish quartet, the first Irish relay team to ever medal at a major global outdoor championships.
With mood in the camp on a dizzying high, Sommer Lecky lined up for Sunday’s high jump final with a fresh desire to make an impact. “Seeing the girls, that medal really egged me on,” she said. “It was a great field so I didn’t look at the medals, I just focused on myself.”
That required a leap of faith for the 18-year-old from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, as her lifetime best going in was 1.86m.
But pitched in against event favourites Karyna Taranda of Belarus and Colombia’s Maria Fernanda Murillo, Lecky looked every inch the world-class jumper Ireland has been lacking since the retirement of Deirdre Ryan.
She cleared a lifetime best of 1.87m without so much as a piece of skin touching the bar, but the pivotal height came next, at 1.90m. She was the first of seven remaining jumpers to go clear and when only Taranda and Murillo could join her, she knew she had a medal. Of the three remaining, only Taranda went over 1.92m, which sent gold to Belarus and a superb, surprise silver to Ireland.
“I just can’t believe it, it hasn’t sunk in,” said Lecky, who very nearly went clear on her last attempt at 1.92m. “It was so close but it wasn’t meant to be. I’ll take 1.90m, for now.”