Truly great athletes show their grace not only on the field but off it as well. And Israel Olatunde’s performance on Claire Byrne on Wednesday morning was a paragon of grace.
He ended the chat by saying, “Thank you. It was an honor.” We’ve lost count of the number of times the fastest Irishman in history has used the word grateful. He spoke more about others than himself. Family, friends, mentors, UCD…everyone really.
Knitted into the conversation were also signifiers of a new Ireland. The casual way it was mentioned that Israel’s mother is a runner in Nigeria. The casual way he mentioned how his parents had come to Ireland 21 years ago and “worked their asses off” – because, as Israel cleverly put it, “they wanted better for us”.
Seeing others share his joy motivates him to do better
There was no tense “Where are you from?” conversation. or ‘Where are your parents from?’ No walking around on tiptoe. That’s the way it is in new Ireland.
And it was in some ways the most Irish scene imaginable. The dad trying to appreciate the son’s speed, but the son firmly acknowledging the mom. And how the children of immigrants can have a drive and a work ethic that others may not have, as their parents work so hard to give them the best they can.
We’ve seen this with Irish expats and their children around the world.
When asked how he balances his running with his Computer Science and Data Science degree at UCD, Israel brushed it off and said that everyone has something to do in their life, again mentioning how supporting others makes it all so make possible.
Alan Craven, Israel’s rector when he visited St Mary’s College, Dundalk, spoke about his former pupil’s work ethic and character, both on and off the pitch. Student of the year 2019 when he graduated, student council leader and a young man who still attends school to give back.
And now, as Ireland’s fastest man in history, Israel keeps giving back. It means the world to him, he says, that he gives joy – and seeing people share in his joy motivates him to do even better.
Later that day, Tallaght teenager Rhasidat Adeleke would break the Irish 400m record. And her main point after her record-breaking race? Like a true champion, she resented not winning a medal and focused on her mistakes.
The Old Irish silently patted us on the back for the ease with which we celebrated these two remarkable New Irish youngsters last week. And let’s hope we’ll soon be celebrating the New Irish beyond sports, arts and entertainment.
Let’s hope that when Israel becomes boss of a tech company, and indeed, when all Israelis and Rhasidats do what the children of Irish immigrants have done everywhere and thrive and rise to the top of society, their grace will be met with similar grace.
You can imagine that Michael Collins, who valued physical fitness and sport as a bond, would be pleased to see how some things have evolved in this republic 100 years later.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/new-irish-stars-of-track-and-field-show-theyve-got-the-right-stuff-41926045.html New Irish track and field stars show they have what it takes