Saturday 20 October 2018

'The last time I felt that chomping-at-the-bit feeling was in Rio' - History made as brilliant Barr takes bronze

 

Thomas Barr celebrates with the tricolour after winning bronze in the 400m hurdles at the European Championships in Berlin. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Thomas Barr celebrates with the tricolour after winning bronze in the 400m hurdles at the European Championships in Berlin. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

Against all odds, against all known form, against an 84-year absence of an Irish medal in a men's sprint event at the European Championships, along came Thomas Barr.

What the 26-year-old Waterford athlete accomplished at the Berlin Olympic Stadium last night - winning bronze in the 400m hurdles in 48.31 - will be remembered long after his spikes have been thrown in the attic, long after his first major championships medal is mounted on the wall.

There have been bigger moments in Irish athletics, sure, but rarely had there been such a euphorically unexpected triumph, even if he happened to be beaten to the line by two athletes. Despite his form coming in being no better than mediocre, he conjured up a one-lap sprint that was akin to sporting sorcery.

"I really can't believe it," he said. "I knew it was going to take a 48-low to get near the medals, and it came together at just the right time."

Barr came into the race with a season's best of 48.99, and he was aware that even a repeat of that would land him towards the rear in a field worthy of an Olympic final.

Drawn in lane eight, he knew he had to go out hard, to speed like a scalded cat through the opening half-lap as world champion Karsten Warholm came bearing down on him from two lanes inside.

Thomas Barr leaps over the final hurdle on his way to winning bronze at the European Championships last night. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Thomas Barr leaps over the final hurdle on his way to winning bronze at the European Championships last night. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Off the last bend, Barr still had a metre to find on France's Ludvy Valiant, who held third behind Warholm and Olympic bronze medallist Yasmani Copello of Turkey.

After missing his rehearsed stride pattern between the last two barriers - taking 15 steps instead of the planned 14 - Barr had to reach for the last with the desperate yearning of a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, knowing a big one was needed if he was to hoist himself into medal position.

"I don't analyse my competitors but I knew we were literally neck and neck coming up to hurdle eight and I was like, 'he's mine, he's not going to get this ahead of me.'"

In the end, he didn't, and over the final 50 metres Barr forged his way past the Frenchman, forced himself on to the podium - the first major championship medal of Barr's career, the first by an Irishman in a sprint event at the European Championships.

History in his pocket. His to keep, come what may.

Warholm took gold with a lightning-quick 47.64 and Copello the silver in 47.81, while Barr's 48.31 was the second fastest time of his career, behind only the 47.97 he ran to finish fourth in the Olympics.

Funny that, because in the minutes before his race Barr came out on the track displaying the child-like giddiness that hadn't been seen since he toed the line in Rio two years ago, waving to the clusters of Irish fans dotted around the vast stadium in Berlin.

"As soon as I walked out it was just so reminiscent of Rio, there were Irish flags everywhere and I just felt really relaxed," he said. "The last time I felt that relaxed, that ready to go, that chomping-at-the-bit feeling was in Rio."

Barr was quick to pay tribute afterwards to coaches Hayley and Drew Harrison, who guide his career with such an expert hand at the University of Limerick, who had told him time and again that despite his ho-hum form this summer things would click when it counted.

"I always have faith in their programme, whether I'm injured or healthy they get me into the shape I've needed," he said.

"I'm just so thankful to all those who have helped make this happen."

If two dots make a trend, then the line between Rio and Berlin depicts Barr as a rare athlete in the annals of Irish athletics, one who will get on the line at a championships and instead of crumble in the presence of pressure, find themselves suddenly elevating to a new level.

"If I had to I'd pull out of every other race to be at my best for world (championships) or Olympics," he said. "I love that (pressure) and I live for the championships."

There were contrasting fortunes, however, for Leon Reid, who could only watch as his medal chance evaporated in the men's 200m final.

Drawn on the outside like Barr, Reid charged around the bend and turned for home in medal contention but had nothing left to give approaching the finish, fading to seventh in 20.37. The race was won by Turkey's Ramil Guliyev in 19.76.

"That just wasn't good enough," said the 23-year-old.

"I tried to hit the bend, and they must have just piggy-backed off me. I just couldn't get anything back on the straight. But with worlds next year, we're just going to continue grow as a team."

Today Ciara Mageean will get her championships under way in the heats of the women's 1,500m and the 2016 bronze medallist will have to be on alert to move on to Sunday's final, with only the top four set to automatically advance.

Irish in action

Phil Healy (200m heats) 10.39am (Irish time), semi-finals, 6.48pm*

Ciara Mageean (1,500m heats) 11.0am

Kerry O'Flaherty, Michelle Finn (3,000m steeplechase heats) 11.25am

Men's 4x400m heats, 12.15pm

Women's 4x400m heats, 12.40pm

*subject to qualification

Irish Independent

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