Barr below par but earns place in final
It was enough, at least for now, but Thomas Barr is in no doubt that a whole lot more will be needed if he is to etch his name among the Irish athletes to have won a medal at the European Championships.
In Berlin last night the 26-year-old Waterford man made a solid start to his campaign with a second-place finish in his 400m hurdles semi-final in 49.10, a race won by Yasmani Copello of Turkey who cruised to the finish, easing down, in 48.88.
Barr didn't have that luxury. Far from it.
His race opened with a strong first bend but down the back straight, sensing his mind was writing cheques his legs couldn't cash, he backed off.
"I felt like I went out very well to hurdle four and then I relaxed a bit too much," he said. "I refocused going into hurdle seven, but I knew I had the strength in the finishing straight. I had more in me today which was a shame, but I got the job done."
Barr needed every ounce of power late on to surge from fourth to second in the home straight, enough to qualify him automatically for tomorrow evening's final, but hardly enough to give Copello or indeed world champion Karsten Warholm of Norway, sleepless night tonight.
Given his ranking ensured him a bye to the semi-finals, Barr got to sit out Monday evening's heats, but the 26-year-old admitted that apparent advantage was anything but, with nerves striking him hard when he entered the cavernous stadium last night. However, with this blowout under his belt, Barr doesn't expect that to be a factor tomorrow.
"The first race I'm always nervous, even at Nationals before the heats," he said. "Even with the warm-up today, it was 37 degrees so I was a bit wary of that, but once I get to the final I'm more settled into the championship and have a race plan in my head. When you come into a final it's like, 'great, let's go for it now.'"
Barr's inferior time to the second-place finishers in the other heats meant he went into the lane draw for the inner and outer lanes, and there were far worse places he could have ended up for the final than the lane eight he has been given.
"It'll force me to put on the blinkers and go for it from the start, but to me it really makes no odds. If I was in lane one I'd have a view of the whole field, if I was in lane eight you've not got as sharp a turn so you can attack the hurdles a lot more."
Two lanes inside him in tomorrow's final will be Warholm, who is an overwhelming favourite for gold, an athlete Barr expects to see draw up alongside him early in the race.
"It's definitely a help because he could be up on me by hurdle five or six so it'll give me a bit of a spur. He always runs well out of lane six or seven so it'll be good to have him there."
It was far from Barr's finest race, and though he will likely have to run close to half a second quicker to win a medal tomorrow night, Barr believes he's up to the task. "If I can pull out a really good race, on paper, on statistics, there's a medal there. I'm happy to have come away with automatic qualification and happy there weren't any lightning-fast times.
"I could finish last or I could finish first or anything in between and I'm well aware of that. I'll have to run close to a PB if I want to get into the medals because other guys were holding back today. But at championships anything can happen. It's all to play for."
Elsewhere Phil Healy brought her first assignment of the week to a close when bowing out of the women's 100m after finishing seventh in her semi-final - and 20th overall - with 11.46.
"I'm really happy, that's still one of my quickest runs," said the Bandon sprinter, who will be back on track for the 200m heats on Friday. "Anything is possible in the 200, the track is really nice so it's just about attacking the bend and taking it home."
Sligo youngster Chris O'Donnell impressed in his senior championship debut yesterday morning, running a season's best from lane one of 46.81 to finish sixth. "I'm one of the youngest competitors here and this experience will stand to me in future championships," said the 20-year-old.
There was no joy for Síofra Cléirigh-Buttner or Claire Mooney in the 800m heats, Cléirigh-Buttner finishing sixth in her heat in 2:02.80 with Mooney fading from first to eighth over the final 200, clocking 2:04.26.
Stephen Scullion came home 23rd in the men's 10,000m final in 29:46.87, a race won with a home-straight kick by France's Morhad Amdouni in 28:11.22.
"That really sucked, it was really hard work," said the Belfast man, who was over a minute outside his best. "I thought I was fitter than I was. I prepared really well and got as fit as I possibly could, but I just found the breathing tough out there. It was humbling."
- European Championships, Live: 8:50am, RTE Two; 8:30am, 5:15pm, BBC Two
Irish in action
Marcus Lawler (200m heats) 9.58am (Irish time)
Marcus Lawler*, Leon Reid (200m semi-finals) 7.15pm
Emma Mitchell (10,000m final) 7.40pm
*Subject to qualification