For the fastest Irishman in history, this is a key time of year – a chance to lay the foundation for a summer of speed. Israel Olatunde is now in his third week of training for the 2023 season, which means heavy lifting in the gym and heavy slogging through a local park.
“It's the most important time, really,” he says. "It's not the most glamourous or nicest time to go training, but this is where champions are made, where PBs come from. I must be a bit of a (masochist) – I enjoy those kinds of sessions: the rain, the cold, the mud. I kind of look forward to them. It's just fun to me; it's not hard work.”
At this time of year, all his running is done on grass, and it’ll be a few weeks before he gets back on a synthetic surface, though Olatunde was in Belfield last Wednesday as UCD unveiled its new track. “I’ve walked around on it, we’d a little fun run on opening day, and it’s great for training,” he says. “It feels fast.”
Olatunde is now in the final year of a computer science degree at UCD, but this is his first time living on campus. Before this, he’d commute each day from his home in Dundalk which, given his treks to Tallaght to train each evening, often meant more than four hours a day spent on buses.
“It’s been pretty beneficial so far in terms of my recovery and getting time to study. I’m getting a lot more sleep. I don’t have to be up at 5am anymore.”
Given the accommodation crisis for third-level students, he feels especially lucky.
“You see it all over the news and with my mates as well, it’s not a good position to be in. I was really grateful I was able to get accommodation on campus so cheers to UCD and Athletics Ireland for sorting that out.”
Olatunde has been an Ad Astra scholarship student during his time at UCD and is currently living with a soccer player and two hockey players who get the same support. At the age of 20, this is his first time living away from home and he’s not fully detached from the nest just yet.
“My mom still babies me, sends me care packages every week so I don’t have to do too much,” he laughs. “She takes good care of me.”
Since making the European 100m final in August, finishing sixth in an Irish record of 10.17, Olatunde has attracted much interest from US colleges, and he’s still weighing up his options for when he finishes at UCD next May.
“I’m keeping things open, not just (looking at) the States,” he says.
He still travels to Tallaght several times a week to train with Daniel Kilgallon’s group, and in their end-of-season debrief he and his coach picked out several things they did well this year, along with others they can improve.
“I’m going at (2023) with the same approach I went at the Europeans – not looking at places or times. I’m working on getting in the best shape I can.”
Life in general feels a little different to last year, with Olatunde now sometimes drawing stares from strangers, but his raised profile is something he embraces.
“It's nice to see people acknowledge what I've done, that really means a lot to me and it makes you want to keep it going, for sure.”
His long-term goals are ambitious, but achieving them comes down to smart decisions on a daily basis.
“I try to take it one season at a time, one race at a time, one training session or one day at a time,” he says. “I try not to over-complicate those things. At the end of the day, I want to run fast. I just focus on what I need to, little things to get better, and I know my goals will come with that.”
*Israel Olatunde was speaking at the launch of the SPAR College Fund, which is giving third-level students in Ireland the chance to win two prizes of €5,000 each to support them this academic year. SPAR has teamed up with the fastest Irish man in history and TikTok star Cian Mooney and calling on college students across Ireland to record a TikTok video in their local SPAR in under 10.17 seconds and share it to Cian Mooney’s TikTok channel to be in with a chance of winning. To find out more visit: www.spar.ie