Friday 21 July 2017

Barr: Maybe I wasn't just ready

Irish duo vow to build on encouraging Beijing displays after semi-final exits

Thomas Barr: ‘Close to my best’
Thomas Barr: ‘Close to my best’

Cathal Dennehy

Despite running the second fastest time of his life, Thomas Barr bowed out of the men's 400m hurdles at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing yesterday, finishing fourth in his semi-final.

Later in the evening, Mark English endured a similar fate in the semi-finals of the men's 800m, his fifth-place finish in 1:45.55 not enough to secure a fastest loser spot in the final.

"I'm a little bit annoyed," said Barr, a gold medallist at the World University Games last month. "I know if I ran close to or slightly beyond my best, I could be in the final. I just didn't have as strong a kick as in my heat, but I'll take a huge amount from this."

Barr was drawn in an unfavourable outside lane for his semi-final and with no-one outside him to gauge his effort, he powered through the first 200m and rounded the home turn with the leaders.

"I was running completely blind so I just had to focus on my own race," he said. "I couldn't believe I was drawn in lane nine again after giving out about it yesterday. You'd swear the gods were listening."

Barr altered his stride pattern approaching the seventh hurdle, which cost him some momentum, but he was still in contention for automatic qualification as the field entered the home straight.

"I did a very quick 200m the other day and my coach said to get out hard, sprint like a sprinter, hurdle like a hurdler. I did that and it's maybe why I didn't have as aggressive a kick at the end," he explained.

Though Barr clawed back a couple of places on the final run to the line, his time of 48.71 fell just 0.25 seconds shy of making the final.

Close

"It was still very close to my best," he said. "Fourth in a World Championship semi-final with my second-fastest time ever is pretty good. I just wish it was a little bit faster.

"Maybe I just wasn't ready for a world final yet, but I've Europeans and Olympics next year and this will serve me well for that."

Next up for Barr individually is the prestigious Weltklasse meeting in Zurich on September 3, but before that he will link up with three Irish team-mates for the 4x400m relay on Saturday.

One of the athletes who'll join him there is English, whose time was 0.27 seconds shy of making the final. After an injury-hit summer, the Donegal athlete was pleased with his run.

"I'm happy with the overall performance," he said. "It felt much easier than yesterday because I was focusing on running splits, trying to run 52 seconds flat (for the first 400m)."

English settled at the back of the field soon after the gun fired in the Bird's Nest Stadium, where he stayed as he took the bell just outside 52 seconds.

On the back straight, English began up the field, but by the time he had got up to fifth, halfway down the home straight, his tank was beginning to run on empty.

"I tied up a bit that last 50," he said. "But I don't think, given the injury I had this season, I was going to do any more than that. I knew if I ran 1.44 I'd get through but it just wasn't there today."

Despite missing out, the 22-year-old was mature in taking stock of his performance. The run means English leaves the World Championships with a 10th-place finish to his name.

"Sometimes you're judged on whether you made it through each round," he said.

"And it's judged as a failure if you fail at the semi-final stage, but if you came 10th in the marathon it'd be a great race, so that's a good run. I'll use it as motivation for the winter."

The difference in qualification and elimination may well have come down to the time English missed earlier this summer, when a blockage and loss of power in his leg caused him to run well below par for several weeks - most notably at the European U-23 Championships, where he finished last in the final.

Quicker

"If I'd had a full season of training, I would have had a better shot at the final," he said. "I may not have made it but I definitely would have run quicker.

"I've learnt a lot from two years ago, though, so the experience stands. There's a lot of mind games going on; it's like a game of poker before the start, people judging each other's emotions and expressions, but I enjoy that aspect. The race starts before you get on the line."

Next up for English is a 600m race in Amsterdam next week and then, if all goes to plan, he will line up in the Brussels Diamond League meeting on September 11.

Earlier yesterday, Alex Wright had a race to forget in the men's 20km race walk. The 24-year-old was disqualified after 12km after three infractions for failing to maintain constant contact with the ground.

"It's disappointing," said Wright. "I haven't been DQ'd in a long time, and never in a major championship."

Wright had gone out hard in the second pack, but found himself walking alone by halfway, at which point he had two warnings beside his name.

"I tried to make adjustments," he said, "but it's very hard when you've dropped off the others because judges pick up on things more. I wanted to achieve top 20 and just went for it. I took a risk and it didn't pay off."

Irish in action

Tori Pena, pole vault qualification, 2.30am

Sara Treacy, Kerry O'Flaherty, Michelle Finn, steeplechase heats, 9.45am

Live, BBC 2, 11am & Eurosport, 11.30am; Highlights, BBC 2, 7.0pm

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