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Israel Olatunde: Who is Ireland’s fastest man?

Dundalk native Israel Olatunde proudly draped himself in the Tricolour and fell to the ground in prayer following his historic win at the European Athletics Championships in Munich on Tuesday night.

he 20-year-old track and field star set a new national record at the 100m final – finishing in sixth place and just .04 seconds shy of winning a bronze medal.

He recorded a time of 10.17 seconds – making him the fastest Irish man in history.

The UCD computer science student beat the record set by Paul Hession in 2007 by .02 seconds and the pride of his incredible accomplishment was evident as he literally jumped for joy with the Irish flag over his head and shoulders before he went down on his knees and offered a silent prayer.

Following his historic sprint, he told RTÉ Sport that his win “is just such a blessing” and credited his coach, his training partners, his family, his faith and his community, for his success and “showing me so much love.”

He said he was still in awe of being at the championships, adding “I had no idea I ran that fast.”

“It’s just amazing to be here,” he said, adding “I know this isn’t going to be the end. I can definitely improve.”

Former Olympian race walker Rob Heffernan was among a slew of athletes and punters alike who paid tribute to him on social media following his incredible performance.

“Israel Olatunde is the fastest Irishman of all time 10.17 for 100 to break Paul Hession’s national record and finish 6th in the European final. What a great young man, no fear. A breath of fresh air. Keep driving on my man,” Heffernan posted on Twitter.

Olatunde had already won the title of the fastest man in Ireland in June 2021 when at the age of just 19 he was the reigning Irish senior 100m champion, winning his first senior gold medal in the race with a personal best of 10.49.

He was born in Drogheda and grew up in Dundalk to Nigerian parents Elizabeth and Issac who moved to Ireland 21 years ago to make a better life for themselves.

Olatunde credited the women in his family for his speed. His mother was also a sprinter growing up in Ogun State in Nigeria and his older sister Sharon who joined the athletics club in Dundalk and did sprints and hurdles and followed in her footsteps.

His parents moved to Ireland at the end of 1999 to start a new life here. His eldest brother, Gabriel was born in Nigeria while Sharon and Israel were both born in Ireland and the family settled in Dundalk.

Issac works as a security supervisor and his mother is a care assistant.

In a previous interview with the Irish Independent, Olatunde paid tribute to his hard-working parents whom he sees as role models and an inspiration for his success.

“They just wanted to give us a better opportunity, for everything – for education, socially, job-wise. They’ve worked so hard ever since they came here. That’s one of the reasons why I work so hard at athletics – everything I do – just because I know the sacrifices they’ve made,” he said.

He revealed that his family has settled well into Irish life but they have never forgotten their roots and his parents still speak their native dialect, Yorbuba, at home.

“Our home is like a little pocket of Nigeria. My parents, they integrated as well with the Irish culture. They’ve been living in Ireland for more than half their lives,” he said.

He has been to visit his family’s home in Nigeria three times so far, which he also credits with his determination to succeed.

“Whenever we went back to Nigeria, just seeing where they (his parents) came from, it just gives you a different motivation I guess, fire in your heart seeing where they came from. You can be a lot happier with less over there than if you were here.

“They (my parents) came from a humble beginning, but they have great love for their country. I still carry that love for Nigeria with me, even though I am Irish. Obviously, my nationality is Irish but at the same time, you can’t deny the connection you have to your parents’ homeland,” he said.

“I do feel connected to both, but it’s hard to explain. I feel both worlds come together with me, I’m able to live the best of both worlds, if that makes sense?”

He also revealed his devotion to Christianity. Before the pandemic struck, he attended the local Pentecostal church in Dundalk every week with his family who pray together regularly.

While he describes himself as “pretty introverted” he admits “I still love the attention,” noting how when he first got into athletics he has “a few pictures of myself screaming after races, going crazy. I like that kind of showmanship, I guess.

“I guess that sounds a bit funny, but I love that attention of being the fastest guy in that space. Obviously, in Ireland, we’ve good competition, but I just want to push on now, make a name for myself in Europe and then move on to the world stage, hopefully.”

In the meantime, he is studying for his computer science degree at UCD after being awarded an Ad Adstra Elite scholarship.

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