Sitting in a podium position until two final round efforts denied him, Reece Ademola came magnificently close to winning a medal in the long jump on day two of the World Under-20 Championships in Cali, Colombia.
It would have been historic too as no Irish long jumper has made the podium on the global stage in modern times. Ademola eventually settled for fifth place after further improving his own Irish Under-20 record to 7.83 metres, the third best by an Irish jumper behind the senior record of 8.07 set by Ciaran McDonagh in 2005.
That 7.83m effort from the Leevale athlete, improving on the 7.76m mark set when qualifying, came in the first round and kept him in third until the final round: by then defending champion Erwan Konate from France had taken the outright lead with a World Under-20 lead of 8.08m, good enough to win him gold.
With his final effort, Cuba’s Alejandro Parada took silver with 7.91m, before Brazil’s Gabriel Luiz Boza also took bronze with his sixth-round effort of 7.90m. The American Curtis Williams also set a best of 7.86m to take fourth, demoting Ademola to fifth, just 7cm away from a medal.
His series of jumps included 7.65m, 7.79m, 7.76m, and 7.49m, and the Cork teenager, also adept in the high jump, clearly has a bright future in the event.
The quality of competition in Cali was again underlined on day two when Letsile Tebogo of Botswana produced a sensational display of sprinting to smash his own World Under-20 100m record and retain his title in 9.91 seconds, easing up on the line in celebration, and with that drawing immediate and justifiable comparisons with a certain Usain Bolt.
The Irish interest also saw Ademola’s clubmate Lucy May Sleeman — who secured her place in the semi-finals of the 100m with a time of 11.71 seconds — in action. Sleeman finished fourth in her heat and had a nervous wait before being confirmed as one of the fastest non-automatic qualifiers. The Leevale sprinter will return to the blocks for the semi-final this evening at 10.21pm.
Day three also saw Nicolas Griggs and Callum Morgan go in the heats of the 3,000m, with the 17 year-old Griggs once again underlining his talent when securing automatic qualification for Friday night’s 15-runner final.
The Tyrone teenager ran smart and composed, nailing fourth in 8:08.35 behind a trio of East Africans, Kenya’s Felix Korir taking the win in 7:58.12. Kenya’s Edwin Kisalsak went quicker again to win the second heat in 7:55.60, with Morgan finishing 14th in 8:13.49.
First staged in Athens in 1986, the high level of competition in this category is also reflected in the fact Ireland have only won four medals in the past: Anton Burke in the high jump in 1994, Ciara Mageean in 1,500m in 2010, Sommer Lecky in the high jump in 2018, along with the women’s 4x100m relay that year, a team which included Rhasidat Adeleke as a 15 year-old.
Elsewhere Darragh McElhinney of UCD AC improved his own National Under-23 3,000m record to 7:42.86 while competing at the Meeting Internazionale Citta’ di Nembro, in Italy, crossing the line first ahead of Italy’s own Ossama Meslek and Burundi’s Egide Ntakarutimana.
McElhinney set the previous record 7:44.01 while competing at Cork City Sports last month, his time moving him to eighth on the Irish all-time list behind Marcus O’Sullivan’s 1989 performance of 7:42.53, and augers well for his European Athletics Championships hopes in Munich next week.