Talented Thomas Barr intent on creating more records
Waterford athlete already the only Irishman to run the 400 metres hurdles in below 49 minutes
Thomas Barr celebrates his victory in last year’s 400m hurdles at the AAI Senior Track & Field Championships at Morton Stadium in Santry, Dublin. “It’s now all about refining and perfecting the technique as much as possible.” Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
“Nine years, nine months and nine days,” he tells me, off the top of his head – pretty impressive considering Thomas Barr wasn’t even born when Edwin Moses set that record. Barr was born five years, 20 days and whatever hours later.
In those nine years, nine months and nine days, from August 1977 to June 1987, Moses went unbeaten in the 400 metres hurdles, winning 122 consecutive races – also pretty impressive, considering it must be the most technically and physically challenging of all track and field events. Considering Moses also broke four world records it may well be the most impressive winning streak in sporting history.
“And Moses would only take 13 strides, the whole way round,” says Barr. Indeed no one could top that until fellow American Kevin Young came along, and threw in a couple of 12 strides – lowering the world record to 46.78 seconds, in 1992, still the only man to run sub-47.
Barr is telling me this overlooking the 400m track at Santry Stadium, as we both try to imagine it lined with 10 hurdles, each three-foot high, the first one placed 45m into the first bend, the other nine placed 35 metres apart, leaving a 40m-stretch to the finish line. Not many people could run that 400m track in 48.90 seconds: for Barr, still 20 days shy of his 22nd birthday, running 48.90 seconds last month, including the hurdles, has already made him the only Irish man to run sub-49.
No traditionThat’s pretty impressive in an event where Irish athletes wouldn’t be traditionally strong, at least not since our Olympic champion Bob Tisdall. In 1932, having left his home in Nenagh to study in Cambridge, Tisdall decided he wanted to run the 400m hurdles at the Los Angeles Olympics, despite no tradition whatsoever in the event.
He got selected at the last minute, having run 54.2 seconds in only his second race ever, and then in Los Angeles, ran 51.67, to win the gold medal. That should have been an Olympic and world record too, although back then if you tipped a hurdle – like Tisdall did – times didn’t stand for record purposes.
Tisdall’s 51.67 did stand as an Irish record, for an incredible 52 years, before JJ Barry finally improved it to 51.56, in 1984. That record only lasted a year, before Ciaran McDunphy ran 51.11, and that record stood for another nine years, before Tom McGuirk – an Irish-American – broke it three times, also going sub-50 for the first time with his 49.73, set on June 1st, 1996.
So, that record stood for 18 years, until Barr ran 49.61 in Belgium, on May 31st, making him just the fourth Irish man to break the national record since Tisdall. Two weeks later, in Geneva, Barr lowered it again, running that 48.90, the then fastest time in Europe for 2014.