The Irish Mixed 4x400m Relay: From Poland Debut to Paris Bound Olympians

July 02, 2024

By Phil Knox

This is the second installment in a series by Phil Knox on Ireland's Olympians gearing up for the Paris Olympic Games, with the athletics to commence in just over four weeks. Unlike its predecessors, which charted the lives and careers of individual athletes, this article will take a different approach. It will explores journey of Ireland's mixed 4x400m relay team, tracing their evolution from its inception to becoming a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.

Evolution of the Mixed 4x400m Relay Event

The mixed 4x400m relay made its debut at the 2017 World Relays in the Bahamas, offering a exciting spectacle as teams strategised whether to lead with male or female athletes. Its inclusion in major championships followed suit: first appearing at the World Athletics Championships in 2019 in Qatar and achieving Olympic status at the 2020 (2021) Tokyo Olympics. Rule changes in March 2022 mandated a fixed order of man-woman-man-woman, adding a new layer of tactical complexity to the event. Its European Championships debut finally came in the 2024 edition of the event.

Evolution of the Irish Mixed 4x400m Relay Team

Ireland entered the mixed 4x400m relay arena at the 2021 World Relays in Poland with a team composed of Chris O'Donnell, Phil Healy, Sharlene Mawdsley, and Andrew Mellon. Their journey began with a solid performance, advancing to the final and finishing 7th among 8 teams.

The team's consistency in the discipline grew evident at subsequent events. At the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Oregon, USA, Christopher O'Donnell, Sophie Becker, Jack Raftery and Sharlene Mawdsley anchored the team to a final appearance, although finishing at the back of the field. The 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest saw a similar feat, with Jack Raftery, Sophie Becker, Christopher O'Donnell and Sharlene Mawdsley steering Ireland to a 6th place finish in the final.

The turning point arrived at the 2024 World Relays in the Bahamas, where this time was the team comprised Sharlene Mawdsley and Thomas Barr, Cillin Greene and Rhasidat Adeleke, clinched bronze. Their impressive performance, setting a national record of 3:11.53, not only secured a podium finish but also ensured their qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympics. Reflecting on the achievement, Thomas Barr said in an interview with Virgin Media TV, "I'm very proud of this team, what we've built in the last couple of years. We really do punch above our weight. That is our magic, that we all come together as a team."

The Road to Paris 2024

Following their bronze at the World Relays, expectations rose for Ireland's mixed 4x400m relay team at the European Athletics Championships, held just over a month later at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. Christopher O'Donnell, Thomas Barr, Sharlene Mawdsley, and Rhasidat Adeleke formed the team that competed would compete in the Italian capital. There was cautious anticipation that the Irish team might perform well on the night of Friday, June 7th, in Rome.

Chris O’Donnell was the first to run, completing a solid split and placing Ireland in fourth as he handed the baton to Rhasidat Adeleke. Adeleke then delivered a blistering split of 49.53, moving the team from fourth to first place at the halfway point. Thomas Barr ran a swift 44.90 but fell behind the exceptionally fast Belgian Alexander Doom. However, Barr executed an efficient handoff to Sharlene Mawdsley.

Receiving the baton, Mawdsley instantly passed Italy's Alice Mangione and kept ahead of Belgium's Helena Ponette down the backstretch. With about 70 metres to go, Mawdsley made her move, impressively tearing past Ponette and securing gold for Ireland as Irish households cheered them on. This historic success marked Ireland's first European gold since 1998, sparking celebrations nationwide.

In a heartfelt interview with RTE Television after their victory, Rhasidat Adeleke expressed, "It means so much because we knew what we could do as a team. We're really strong, we're proving ourselves so many times. I just feel like it was our turn to win a Championship medal on a senior level. You really deserve it. We work so hard, and we really trust each other as a team, and that showed on the track today."

As the countdown to the upcoming Paris 2024 games gathers pace, the Irish mixed 4x400m relay team stands poised for even greater achievements. With stalwarts like Sharlene Mawdsley and Thomas Barr likely to feature, anticipation mounts over Rhasidat Adeleke's dual commitments in individual events. The team will face a more challenging test at the Paris Olympics, with formidable competition from the USA, Netherlands, Belgium and Italy for a podium position. However, the team's successes this year so far highlight their potential on the world stage, with fans eagerly awaiting their performance at the Olympics.

The remarkable journey of Ireland's mixed 4x400m relay team embodies hard work, strategic evolution, and the excitement of athletic competition. From modest beginnings to podium finishes and historic victories, the evolving team's story exemplifies the spirit of teamwork in the relay event. As they prepare to represent Ireland at the Paris 2024 Olympics, the whole of Ireland is eager to witness their pursuit of Olympic glory.

We wish them every success.

Image: Perri Williams

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