Diversity boosting talent level among Ireland’s young track and field stars
2018-07-10 14:50:18 -

By Finn Hoogensen


Close finishes and record-breaking performances were the order of the day at the Tailteann Interprovincial Schools Championships at Dublin’s Morton Stadium on Saturday 23 June, which featured some of the top under-17 athletes from Ireland’s four provinces.


Meet records were set in the boys’ 800 metres (Louis O’Loughlin, 1:53.61), girls’ 1,500m steeplechase (Roisin Tracey, 5:04.4), boys’ 3,000m walk (Oisin Lane, 13:07.9) and boys’ 700g javelin (Conor Cusack, 62.65 metres).


O’Loughlin, Lane and Cusack were all recently selected to represent Ireland at the European U18 Athletics Championships in Gyor, Hungary later this month.


Israel Olatunde ran away from the rest of field in the fastest race of the day, the boys’ 100 metres. The reigning national junior indoor 60m champion finished with a time of 10.98.


“I was pretty happy with my 100 metres. I could’ve done better at the start, but I feel like I finished really well,” Olatunde said.

In the girls’ 100m, Adeyemi Talabi was first with a time of 12.18. “I could see someone out of the corner of my eye, so it pushed myself forward,” Talabi said.


Both Olatunde and Talabi were also selected for Ireland’s team headed to Gyor.


In the boys’ high jump, Nelvin Appiah won with a 1.95m leap. The versatile athlete also placed third in the 200m, running a time of 22.67. Earlier in June, Appiah set the intermediate boys’ high jump record at 2.02 metres but just missed out on qualifying for the Europeans by a centimetre.


Many of the athletes taking part were newly eligible for international selection, and used the event as a showcase for their talents.


“It’s always great competing against good competition to bring out the best in you,” said Olatunde, who will represent Ireland in the 100m – a discipline that’s previously been one of the weaker areas in Irish athletics.


However, an influx of talented athletes like Olatunde, Talabi and Appiah, who all have ethnic minority backgrounds, has brought more diversity into the sport and raised the standards of competition.


As recently as 10 years ago, Eamonn Henry said he could count on one hand the number of ethnic minority athletes competing at the national level.

This spurred Henry, a co-ordinator at the Offaly Sports Partnership, to help develop the Integrated Academy for Athletics Performance: an after-school programme with the goal of increasing ethnic minority participation in Irish athletics.


The programme reached out to Irish schools with the highest concentration of children from ethnic minority backgrounds. “We were trying to create a safe space initially to ease them into the sport,” Henry said. “We supported them in entering competitions and then later transferring them into clubs. But we’ve always been there to provide guidance and coaching.”


The Integrated Academy for Athletics Performance is one of several programmes created within the last decade that share the same goals of opening access to sport across cultural and economic boundaries.


And the results have only raised the talent level in Ireland, as evident on the track and field at Morton Stadium.

“We’re all friendly with each other and we all know each other, so it’s just like competing against your friends,” Appiah said. “But when it comes to competition, you’re more serious about it, and afterwards it’s back to normal and being friends again.”

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