The choice is coming, and Rhasidat Adeleke knows it’s a big one. Should she stay or go?
It’s the fork in the road all talented young athletes face and the 17-year-old sprint star is keen not to rush it, knowing her decision could determine the fate of her career.
Given the breadth of her ability, Adeleke is not short of options, with a string of US colleges lining up to offer the sixth-year student an all-inclusive scholarship.
She won’t lie: she’s tempted. Over the Halloween break, Adeleke visited some American colleges to get a feel for the environment there.
As a student of the sport, she knows the NCAA is the key production line of world-class sprinters, its rosters filled with many of the sport’s brightest coaching minds. Then there are the facilities and financial backing, which despite being in an amateur setting are on a different plane to most professional sports back home. What will she do?
“I don’t know,” says Adeleke, speaking at the launch of the Daily Mile and SPAR Better Choices campaign. “I’ve a lot going on right now. The (Leaving Cert) mocks are coming up and the indoor season is starting but I’m keeping open-minded. I probably won’t decide until I have to go in August. I’m sending in applications for colleges in Ireland as well.”
There was a time when it was a no-brainer. It’s why so many greats like Ronnie Delany, Eamonn Coghlan, and Sonia O’Sullivan headed off without a second thought, knowing there was little to keep them at home.
But that’s changing.
These days, athletics scholarships are available at several Irish universities, while the Sport Ireland Institute means rising stars like Adeleke have all the medical and sports science back-up they need.
Adeleke is also not shy of high-level training partners, working under coach Daniel Kilgallon who oversees one of the country’s leading sprint groups in Tallaght.
“I’m happy in my current environment,” says Adeleke. “But I’m looking at my options. (The NCAA) seems a really good atmosphere to be in: there are world-class sprinters who have coached world champions, world record holders, Olympic champions, so to be there would be a massive step but at the same time, there are also negatives to every situation. I just have to weigh up the pros and cons at the end of the summer.”
In the meantime, she has enough on her plate with the Leaving Cert looming into view at Presentation College Terenure. But Adeleke is keen to stop it enveloping her whole existence.
“I want to try to give each equal attention. I don’t want the Leaving Cert to affect my athletics. Lots of people perform and do well in both areas.”
While Adeleke hit the headlines last summer for her golden double at the European Youth Olympic Festival, in many ways it was a frustrating year given she didn’t improve her personal bests. But as she matures, she is realising progression is not a linear journey.
“Trust the process,” she says. “Last year, the highlight was my European medals but it was a different year for me. I had to be patient and now that I understand the process, it’s easier to understand why things don’t always go your way. This year I’ll be mentally stronger.”
It’s been a promising start. Last weekend Adeleke lowered her 60m personal best to 7.40 in Abbotstown, all the more impressive given her height isn’t conducive to fast starts. She’ll try to knock out a few more PBs indoors before looking to the summer, where the big target will be July’s World U20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya.
The Tokyo Olympics will likely come a bit too soon, but there’s always Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028, Games Adeleke knows she can be part of once things go her way.
That big decision will eventually have to be confronted, but right now, Adeleke’s mind is thinking short-term — how she can get better at doing what she does best.
“I want to be consistent, run a few PBs, qualify for Nairobi and give it a lash there,” she says.
“It’s going to be tough, but hopefully I can bring my A-game.”