Barr ready for 400m hurdles semi-final

Top two assured start in final but race ‘real proof’ of how good Irish man is

Ireland’s Brian Gregan takes a breather beside Great Britain’s Matthew Hudson-Smith after qualifying for the semi-finals from his heat of the Men’s 400m. Photograph: Inpho

Ireland’s Brian Gregan takes a breather beside Great Britain’s Matthew Hudson-Smith after qualifying for the semi-finals from his heat of the Men’s 400m. Photograph: Inpho

Wed, Aug 13, 2014, 01:00

Running 400m over hurdles has always been a delicate balancing act. Between stride pattern and g-force, being terrified and fearless and staying serenely calm before an unholy storm.

Thomas Barr needs to get that balance perfectly right later this afternoon to make the European Championship final, but for now he’s exactly where he needs to be: drawn in lane five for his semi-final – just after 5pm Irish time – he’ll have one of his main rivals, Serbia’s World Championship bronze medallist Emir Berkic, just outside him and big Swiss hope Kariem Hussein a couple of lanes inside.

Only the top two are guaranteed a place in Friday’s final – along with the two fastest losers across the three semi-finals – and Barr himself describes it as “the real proof” of how good he is. One wrong move, that balancing act is over, and with no safety net.

As an exercise in clearing the first hurdle (or 10 of them, to be exact) Barr looked perfectly balanced yesterday, winning his heat in 49.79 seconds, while clearly keeping a little in reserve. Then, so too did all the chief contenders: the Russian Denis Kudryavtsev looked powerful in winning heat one in 49.05, Estonia’s Rasmus Magi coolly took the third heat in 49.72

and Britain’s Niall Flannery held off Bekric, running 49.77 to win his heat. In the end Barr was ranked eighth best, after the five heats, and knows his Irish record of 48.90 may need breaching if he’s to progress.

“I always knew qualifying from the heat wouldn’t be too hard, but the semi-final will be the real proof,” said Barr, as buoyant as ever. “I hit my ideal stride pattern, again, which is 13 strides to hurdle six, and then 14 strides home [for the last four hurdles]. I eased off the gas a little bit, coming into the straight, but other than that it was perfect.

“But there are a lot of athletes fighting for those two automatic qualifying spots. It will be a mini-final, really, but I’m looking forward to it. Everyone will be flying out of the blocks, running from gun to tape, because it’s going to be so tight. I think a low 49 seconds should get through, but to get a decent lane for the final, I will want to come very close to my PB.”

It will also mean balancing his nerve and whatever nervous energy that creates. The final places won’t be decided over the first hurdle, or indeed over the next nine, each placed 35m apart, but in the 40m-stretch of flat to the finish line, where the balancing act often means just staying on your feet.

“I do feel confident, yeah,” he added. “But I suppose more nervous as well. I know there is some pressure on me here, people expecting things of me, and other athletes looking at me. But all the waiting around actually did me good, coming out on the bus, in the call room. By the time I got to the track I was definitely ready to go.”

Barr’s safe passage to the semi-finals was later replicated by Brian Gregan and Richard Morrissey – both over 400m flat – and Amy Foster also got through the semi-finals of the women’s 100m.

For Gregan, third place in his heat, clocking 46.33 seconds, sent him through automatically, although he was first to admit that something under 45.5 seconds will be needed to get through to the final.

“I was ranked fifth in that heat, finished third, so happy with that,” said Gregan, a finalist in Helsinki two years ago. “My form is definitely coming back, I’m nearly there, but I know how tough it will be to make the final. The semi-final is a final for everyone, really, but I feel I have it in me.”

Morrissey – an Essex man whose parents hail from Mayo – certainly made the most of his first senior appearance in an Irish vest, running a personal best of 46.20 to finish sixth (actually quicker than Gregan) and enough to go through as a fastest loser. But with 14 men going sub-45 in the heats, including Britain’s Martyn Rooney (second ranked with his 45.48), Gregan’s own personal best of 45.53 will definitely need breaching if he’s to go through.

Foster also earned herself another run over the 100m, progressing as a fastest loser with her 11.51 seconds, to finish fifth. Although 19-year-old Phil Healy, running in her first major championships, qualifying proved just beyond her, her 11.53 seconds, sixth best in her heat, falling just short.

Also eliminated were Jason Harvey, seventh in his 400m hurdles heat (51.9), his preparations ruined by ankle ligament damage sustained in training four weeks ago, while senior debutant in the 100m hurdles, Sarah Lavin, silver medallist at junior level last summer, ran close to her season best, clocking 13.35 (having run 13.23 to qualify for the championships).

Lavin was visibly disappointed afterwards, but running 100m over hurdles is a similar balancing act, and she has plenty of time hit her stride and get it right.

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