Thomas Barr wins his heat but knows bar will be raised in semi-finals

Promising start for Irish athletes at European Championships in Zurich

Ireland’s Thomas Barr on his way to qualifying from his heat of the men’s 400m hurdles during day one of the  European Athletics Championships at the Letzigrund Stadium in Zurich. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ireland’s Thomas Barr on his way to qualifying from his heat of the men’s 400m hurdles during day one of the European Athletics Championships at the Letzigrund Stadium in Zurich. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Tue, Aug 12, 2014, 13:34

As an exercise in clearing the first hurdle – or 10 of them, to be exact – Thomas Barr got it perfectly right inside the Letzigrund Stadium this morning on the opening session of the European Athletics Championships.

In winning, with relative ease, his heat of the 400 metres hurdles, Barr booked his place in tomorrow evening’s semi-finals, where the bar will be raised quite considerably in what will be a daring and challenging test to make Friday’s final.

In the end he was ranked eighth best after the five heats, although his time of 49.79 seconds looked perfectly comfortable, and clearly there is more to come.

So it proved too for Brian Gregan and Richard Morrissey, both of whom qualified for the semi-finals of the 400m flat, and Amy Foster also got through to the semi-finals of the women’s 100m.

Running in the second of the five heats, Barr always looked in control, and came home ahead of Germany’s Felix Franz (50.23) and Hungary’s Mate Koroknai.

Yet the quality of his opposition in the semi-finals also became ominously apparent. The Russian Denis Kudryavtsev looked powerful in winning the first heat in 49.05, Estonia’s Rasmus Magi took the third heat in 49.72, and Britain’s Niall Flannery held off the very impressive Serbian Emir Bekric, running 49.77. Kariem Hussein from Switzerland, the home favourite, won the final heat in 49.70.

“Delighted to have got through that, and so far so good,” said the 22-year-old Barr. “I know the semi-finals are going to be a real tough fight now, and it will mean going low 49-seconds to get through.”

Indeed from the three semi-finals, only the top two are assured of a place in Friday’s final, plus the two fastest losers. Jason Harvey, running in the final heat, went out when finishing seventh, his preparations severely restrained by ankle ligament damage sustained in training four weeks ago.

Later, both Gregan and Morrissey went into the 400m heats a little unsure of their form, yet delivered two fine performances. Gregan finished third in his heat, running 46.33, to go through as an automatic qualifier, while Morrissey actually ran a personal best of 46.20, which although only good enough for sixth, saw him through as one of the fastest losers. Both men will thus be back on the track tomorrow evening for the semi-finals.

Foster also came through the 100m as a fastest loser, running 11.51 seconds to finish fifth, although for 19 year-old Phil Healy, running in her first major championships, it was a case of near and yet so far: Healy got an excellent start, faded a little to sixth, but still ran 11.53 seconds – although that fell just short of seeing her through.

The session ended with another senior debutant in 100m hurdler Sarah Lavin, silver medallist at junior level last summer. The Limerick athlete ran close to her season best, clocking 13.35 (having run 13.23 to qualify for the championships), although as expected a place in the semi-finals needed something closer to sub-13 – all the winners going under 13 seconds, including Germany’s Anne Zagre, who won Lavin’s heat in 12.80 seconds.

IRISH IN ACTION THIS EVENING

6.05pm – 800m Rd 1: Mark English/Declan Murray.

7.10pm – 10,000m Final: Fionnuala Britton.

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