Sport

Elizabeth Ndudi claims long jump gold for Ireland at the European Junior Championships

Ireland's Elizabeth Ndudi poses for a photograph at Dublin Airport after returning from the U20 European Athletics Championships in Jerusalem where she won gold in the women's long jump event. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ireland's Elizabeth Ndudi poses for a photograph at Dublin Airport after returning from the U20 European Athletics Championships in Jerusalem where she won gold in the women's long jump event. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile Ireland's Elizabeth Ndudi poses for a photograph at Dublin Airport after returning from the U20 European Athletics Championships in Jerusalem where she won gold in the women's long jump event. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

IRELAND took its first gold of the European Junior Championships in Jerusalem and it came from an unexpected source.

Eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Ndudi turned in the performance of her young life to take the long jump title with a new national U20 record.

In a close-run competition, in which six jumpers finished within six centimetres, the Dundrum South Dublin athlete prevailed with a mighty 6.56m personal best in the third round. 

“I’m in shock,” she said. “I can’t believe I actually won. I was so hungry to win, I’ve been repeating to myself every day, ‘I will be under-20 long jump champion,’ and now I’ve done it. It was a lot of pressure, I owed it to myself to get on that podium and now that it’s done, I’m so relieved.” 

An unexpected victory? Yes, but Ndudi entered the competition as national senior champion, both inside and outdoors, with a best of 6.44m putting her on paper just 11cm behind the top-ranked athlete. And she had learned from a disappointing European Youth (U18) Championships at the same stadium last year when she finished only seventh. 

Ndudi laid down a marker from the outset of yesterday’s final, signalling her intent early with a personal best of 6.48m in the second round. She improved that to 6.56m with her next jump to take the lead.  

“I got out of the sand, saw it and I screamed, I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

“I was confident in myself coming in here but it’s a huge improvement and to do it in such a high competition makes the national record so special. I really focused on my mental preparations as well as the physical side coming in here.  

“I made sure to really get in the zone in the morning and evening before sessions. Last year I was a bit nervous, and I think that’s why I didn’t post a big jump but today I came in here full of confidence, so I was mentally prepared."  

Ndudi was born in Dublin and grew up in Sandyford. She is half-Irish, half-Dutch and her father is Nigerian. Ndudi took up athletics at the age of eight when her mother brought her down to Dundrum South Dublin AC after witnessing her speed in sports days at St Attracta's National School.  

She moved to France at the age of 11, where she has been based since, and is coached by Julien Guilard at Racing Club Nantes. While she has dual nationality, there was never any doubt as to which country she would represent. 

“It is my country,” she asserted.

“I always said when I was younger that if I made it to the Olympics, I’d represent Ireland because we don’t often see big Irish athletes in athletics at the Olympics. I wanted to be one of those. I’m very close to my Irish ties.” 

Ndudi becomes just the eighth Irish athlete to strike gold in the 53-year history of the championships, a victory she described as “mind-blowing.”

Later this month she will be jetting out to Texas to take up a scholarship at the University of Illinois. 

Aside from Ndudi’s victory there was little else to enthuse over for the Irish supporters in the stadium.

Maeve O’Neill had done well to reach the final of the 800m but had to settle  for eighth in 2:10.68; Louise O’Mahony was 11th in the 5000m with a 17:00.33 mark; both boys’ and girls’ 4 x 400m relay teams were seventh while the Irish boys’ 4 x 100m relay team was disqualified for changing the baton outside the zone. Ireland finished 19th on the medal table with one gold and one silver.  

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad, Toby Thompson ran the two fastest 200m times of his career in the space of two hours only to fall agonisingly 0.02 short of making the 200m final.

The Ballymena & Antrim sprinter was a surprise winner of his heat taking almost 0.5 seconds off his personal best with 21.44 (-0.2) timing before lining in the semi-final only two hours later, finishing third in 21.65 (0.7) and falling just short of the 21.63 required to make the final.