Irish sport gained a new hero on Tuesday night, as Dundalk sprinter Israel Olatunde not only reached the final of the 100 metres at the European Championships, but set a new national record in finishing sixth overall.
His time of 10.17 makes him the fastest Irishman of all-time, and the youngster was the star of the show in Munich on Tuesday.
His excited post-race interview, coupled with his explosive pace, make us sure that Israel Olatunde is a star of the future for Irish Athletics.
Israel Olatunde dazzles in 100m final in Munich
UCD student Israel Olatunde went into the European Championships in Munich already established as a bright hope for the future of Irish Athletics. He emerged from Tuesday's 100m as a new star of Irish sport.
Olatunde was born in Dundalk to Nigerian parents. Back in February, he spoke to David Gillick for Balls.ie about the importance of his heritage, and the changing environment for African-Irish athletes:
It’s like all our parents made a sacrifice to give their kids a better opportunity at life and just being able to make our community proud really means a lot.
Growing up, there weren't many African-Irish people in the media or people to look to, so being able to inspire people younger than us who are African and Irish.
Hopefully we can see more African-Irish people in sport and in general pursuing their dreams.
Growing up, people are always going to look at you differently because they’re not used to it. Some people are a bit more nastier than others but it is what it is, I guess. But in athletics it’s different.
I can only speak for myself but I haven’t had any bad experiences being African-Irish in athletics. I feel like everyone is really supportive. That’s what I really love about sport, you have people come in from all different cultures and backgrounds and they come together to compete to be the fastest
He has certainly inspired many across the nation with his sensational run(s) on Tuesday evening.
The highlight of the evening in the Olympiastadion was arguably Olatunde's overwhelmed reaction to discovering he had a place in the 100m final.
— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) August 16, 2022
His brilliant run in the last of the semi-finals saw him clinch a spot in lane seven for the final later on Tuesday night.
Watch Israel reel them inpic.twitter.com/CvO2Ru2BZo
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) August 16, 2022
The showpiece event of European track athletics, and an Irishman lining up alongside the likes of Olympic champion Marcell Jacobs. It was an extraordinarily proud moment for Olatunde, and for Irish fans watching.
In that same chat with Gillick back in February, Olatunde spoke to us about the influence that previous generations of Irish sprinters had had on him. He said:
I started to get into athletics a little bit late, a bit after Paul [Hession]’s time.
But still looking back at all the great Irish sprinters like you, Paul, Derval O’Rourke, it’s really an inspiration to see you guys, how you guys got to the top of the game. It’s an inspiration to all us younger athletes, we may have not seen you guys compete, but we see the results and the legacy you left. We definitely want to reach those goals.
Like Paul is a great athlete, having a 6.61 [60m] record is crazy when I think about it. I want to be there one day, respect to Paul of course but I want to be there one day.
His determination to reach the level of Hession and O'Rourke is palpable, but he also seems a grounded and humble young man. Olatunde reaching the final alone would have been a major success story, especially on top of the achievements of Rhasidat Adeleke and Ciara Mageean in reaching their respective finals.
But the Dundalk man pulled one last brilliant trick out of the bag in the final, running the fastest time in Irish history [10.17] to claim sixth, finishing just 0.04 seconds off a third place spot.
It was nothing short of sensational from Israel Olatunde, and he was ecstatic once more once the times revealed that he had, in fact, claimed one of Paul Hession's national records.
The moment Israel Olatunde realised he was now Ireland's fastest manpic.twitter.com/t08T8f0G6l
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) August 16, 2022
The most exciting thing about Israel Olatunde is that he is still, incredibly, only 20 years old. With two years to go until the Paris Olympics, he will be determined to push on from here, but sixth place in a European final at just 20 is a truly remarkable return.