Thomas Barr’s hopes of winning another European medal met an abrupt end at the Olympic Stadium in Munich this morning, the 30-year-old eliminated from the 400m hurdles after finishing third in his semi-final in 49.30.
That left him just shy of the two automatic qualifying spots for tomorrow’s final, leaving Barr sitting in the hot seat as one of two fastest losers, nervously watching the ensuing races, knowing it would likely not be enough. “I felt it’d be sub-49 (at the finish) but when I saw 49.30, I knew my campaign was over,” he said.
And so it proved, with world record holder Karsten Warholm powering to victory in the second semi-final in 48.38 and the first four running quicker than Barr, whose frustration only grew when seeing the last semi-final was won in 49.34.
“I can’t really catch any luck this season,” said Barr, who’d been in flying form in May before an Achilles tendon injury cost him five weeks of training. “I’ve come to these championships enough and I know the disappointment is huge, but it’s also fleeting. If I was to allow the disappointment drag me far down, I wouldn’t be coming back year on year. There is a bigger picture. I’ve had my fair share of good luck – this was just one of those frustrating years.”
Drawn in the difficult lane eight due to his modest season’s best, Barr ran strongly through the opening 300 metres and turned for home in third place, confident he might be able to run down one of the two out front: Wilfried Happio of France and Joshua Abuaka of Germany. “But I just didn’t quite have that zip,” he said. “Possibly (due to) lack of training, possibly lack of race practice.”
Nonetheless, Barr was optimistic as he looked towards next year’s World Championships in Budapest and the 2024 Olympics in Paris. “I feel like I’m still able to run fast times, it just wasn’t there this week,” he said. “Fingers crossed I can pick it back up and come again next year.”
There was much better news for Mark English, who utilised a cunning, courageous move up in the inside with 250 metres to run in his 800m heat, surging into the small gap left by Benjamin Robert of France. English took control around the final bend and kept his rivals in check down the home straight, taking victory in 1:47.54.
“There were a lot of good guys in that race, there was a world silver medallist and four guys who made the world semi-final,” said English. “I had a little bit more (left), I was looking at the screen a lot (in the home straight) to make sure I was okay, but it was comfortable. We’ll find out a lot tomorrow.”
There was no joy for his teammate John Fitzsimons, who faded over the final 100m to finish seventh in his 800m heat in 1:48.22. “I’m gutted not to make it through, devastated,” said Fitzsimons. “I ran the whole thing in lane two – amateur hour – and how did I expect to fend off the lads of that calibre behind me? I went way too early and ran it so poorly. I’m so upset with myself to go out there and blow it, running like a donkey.”
Louise Shanahan secured an automatic qualifying position in the women’s 800m after finishing third in her heat in 2:02.80, which left the Leevale athlete in considerable distress, vomiting several times as she walked through the mixed zone. Once recovered, she felt upbeat as she looked ahead to tomorrow’s semi-final. “I came here with a job to do and I did it,” she said. “I went out quite aggressively, it slowed through the bell and I got boxed in but there’s nothing you can do in that position, just hope the gap opens up.” Eventually it did, and Shanahan showed her trademark strength down the home straight to advance.
Her clubmate, Michelle Finn, marched into the final of the 3000m steeplechase after clocking 9:49.85 to finish seventh in her heat, securing one of five non-automatic qualifying spots. “I think I just got lucky this time, I was definitely rusty and my plan was to go for top five and if I fall apart, I fall apart,” said Finn. “I’m happy to have made it, I think there’s more there for the final. I’d love to get closer to 9:30. I think the fitness is there if I went to the absolute well, which is what I hope to do.”
Eilish Flanagan was well off her best in the subsequent heat, finishing 12th in 10:00.72 after a summer in which she missed significant blocks of training due to a bone bruise in her knee, a bout of Covid-19 and an Achilles injury. “It was shockingly bad,” said Flanagan. “I didn’t have too high expectations given my build-up but anytime I wear my country’s vest I want to do my country proud and to not be able to do that is disappointing.”
Marcus Lawler was the last of the Irish in action on the track and the Carlow sprinter was also well off his best, clocking 21.10 to finish seventh in his 200m heat. “It’s really disappointing,” he said. “We spent a lot of time focusing on getting out hard and I felt like I was in touch over the first half. I’d been going really well in training and I felt like I had a good one in me, but 21.10 is disappointing.”
There are two Irish athletes in action at the Olympic Stadium this evening: Andrew Coscoran in the men’s 1500m final at 8.05 Irish time, and Roisin Flanagan in the women’s 5000m final at 8.25.