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'Operation motivation' proving difficult for Barr in battle to find the next challenge


Barr: Training at home. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Barr: Training at home. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Barr: Training at home. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Here's the trade-off, a see-saw in his psychology that can go either way on any given day. For Thomas Barr, there are mornings when he skips down the stairs and relishes the thought of lifting weights in his living room. Then there are days when the Olympic finalist, quite frankly, couldn't be a**ed.

"Some days I'm 100 per cent, and some days I'm barely even wanting to get out of bed: lazy, unmotivated, lethargic and not in great humour," he says. "When we have no short-term or middle-term goals and the long-term goals are this time next year, motivation is definitely rock-bottom."

In those moments when the pendulum of this pandemic swings him to a dark place, he falls back on old habits. "That's where discipline takes over. Motivation is out the window but that discipline, that keeps you going."

He's not going to pretend he has it hard. His grant from Sport Ireland will still hit his bank account this year, as will payments from sponsors like New Balance and Red Bull, but Barr has long been aware that he feels crankier during his end-of-season break from training. "Because we all have more time to think, we all have more time to overthink," he says. The easiest way to keep that feeling at bay is with a daily dose of endorphins.

And so, at the house in Limerick which he shares with several other athletes, the living room has been turned into a gym. There's a treadmill, a squat rack, barbells, dumbbells - everything he needs to keep on keeping on. He does sprints on the road outside and hill reps on a nearby green. "I'm one of those people who doesn't like to be idle, but because we have no real idea of when we can compete again, it's just maintaining."

In his spare time he works on renovating a house he bought last year and, no, he hasn't joined the banana-bread-baking brigade: "I have a weird hatred of bananas."

What does he miss? The way training used to double as a social event. "It's always savage craic," he says. "But there's bigger things these days."

Things have been different since March, ever since the Olympics were wiped off this year's calendar. The Europeans in Paris - scheduled for August - soon followed and Barr is left knowing that the only way he will compete this summer is in a domestic setting, likely without an audience.

"It would be very hollow," he admits. "I'd definitely be open to it if it was a possibility but I wouldn't get the same feeling. I'd be just as well to go down the track here and bust out a time trial. I'm not pinning my hopes on any competitions this summer."

The Tokyo Olympics are slated to start in July 2021 but last week Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, warned that if the virus isn't contained by then the Games "will be difficult to pull off" and could be cancelled.

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He thinks back to 2016 - how he shot to fame by finishing fourth in the Olympic 400m hurdles final. Veterans of the Irish team had few good things to say about the Rio Games but for Barr they will remain magical. "I was completely blown away by it. It took a long time to come down off that high."

It was the vastness, that utopian meshing of various nationalities, something that now feels such a distant memory. One of the funnier moments for Barr was sitting in the dining hall with fellow athlete Alex Wright and team coach Ray Flynn when they were joined by tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.

"I am not a sports fanatic, I don't really follow sports," admits Barr, before taking up the tale. "This tall, blonde Danish girl comes up to the table and she said it was her last day in the village and that she said she didn't have a Team Ireland badge yet, so would we mind swapping?

"We said we didn't have any but we could go get some and she said, 'It's okay, don't worry.' We asked her how she did, she said she got knocked out and that she had to get home now for the (US) Open. I had no idea who she was or what she was talking about."

They shot the breeze at considerable length over lunch and then, as she was leaving, Flynn joked to Wozniacki that she should give her number to one of the Irish lads, an offer that was politely declined: "I dated a Northern Irish guy before. It didn't work out."

Rio conjures up memories that have only been enhanced over time. He came up short of a medal by five hundredths of a second but his fourth-place finish brought everlasting pride. "I'm in no way bitter at not having pushed on that little fraction of a second," he says.

The first truly major medal of his career arrived in 2018, Barr finishing third in the European 400m hurdles final in Berlin. That night he was carried high by Irish fans outside the stadium and in these humdrum days of purgatory, it's the thoughts of more moments like that which sustain him.

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