Glory in near-miss as Barr 'puts name on map'
Hurdler proud after record-breaking run falls agonisingly short of medal
Thomas Barr missed an Olympic medal by an agonising five hundredths of a second after an astonishing performance in one of the greatest 400m hurdles finals in the history of the Games.
Four of the seven finalists - the luckless Javier Culson from Puerto Rica was disqualified after a false start - dipped under 48 seconds.
Four new national records - Kenyan, Turkish, Irish and Estonian - were set; Jamaican Annsert Whyte ran a personal best time to finish fifth, while the gold medallist Kerron Clement ran a seasonal best of 47.73 to secure his second Olympic medal. The Trindad-born adopted American won bronze in the event in Beijing in 2008.
But rarely could an athlete who had finished fourth in an Olympic final feel so satisfied with their performance.
"Aw lads, so close," suggested Barr to the assembled media even before the first question was asked. "Close but no cigar this time round. I'm absolutely thrilled with what's my first Olympics - 47 seconds, that really puts me on the map."
"Fourth is probably the best and the worst place to come outside the medals, especially because I was so close coming on that home straight and I thought I was in contention."
Barr became the first Irish hurdler to dip under 48 seconds - he was also the first to break 49 seconds - as he smashed his own 24-hour-old national record with a world-class 47.97. It was one of the best ever track records set by an Irish male runner.
When winning the gold medal in the 400m hurdles at the Los Angeles Games in 1932, Ireland's Bob Tisdall set a then world best time of 51.67. But it wasn't recognised as a world record because he knocked the last hurdle.
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The quality of Barr's performance could be legitimately compared to Ron Delany's gold medal run in the 1956 Olympics. His time would have been fast enough to secure him a podium finish at the last three Olympics.
The last athlete not to win a medal running sub-48 was in Atlanta in 1996 when Sweden's Sven Nylander finished fourth in 47.98. Until yesterday's final, run at midday local time, only one athlete had run under 48 seconds since 2013. The last time four athletes went under 48 seconds in the same race was 15 years ago.
"Maybe I just didn't execute the absolutely perfect race, but I left everything on the track with a personal best and I'm absolutely thrilled with that," continued Barr.
"You know, 47, it's really put me on the map now but I was so, so close, .05 of a second off the man over there (Yasmani) Copello and I thought even maybe I could have sneaked it on the line. I wasn't sure of it but you never know what can happen in the dip.
"But fourth place in an Olympic Games, when I was coming into this with really, really haphazard preparation, it's an absolutely astonishing feat."
Watched from the stands by his parents Tommy and Martina and many of the other Irish competitors in Rio, including rowing silver medalist Gary O'Donovan and golfer Padraig Harrington, Barr made his characteristic surge in the final once he hit the final straight.
Clement took the gold medal ahead of Boniface Mucheru Tumuti, one of two Kenyans in the field.
Barr was closing with every stride on the controversial Cuban-born Copello but the latter just dipped ahead of him in 47.92, inches ahead of the 24-year-old Waterford man, who missed a significant chunk of the season due to a hip injury which will require corrective surgery before the end of the year.
"It's been absolutely immense," Barr beamed. "It's been a tough year. I'd like to thank everyone who has stood by me - especially in the tough times. My coaches Haley and Drew (Harrison) have gotten me into such good fitness - not just for one good race but for three good races and a new national record of 47 seconds."
Though Barr yesterday joined the growing band of Irish - now believed to number 20 - who have finished fourth in an Olympic final, there was a joyous fulfilment about Barr's performance. And the best may have yet to come from the Ferrybank AC athlete.