It finished after a short wait in the hot seat and the sudden realisation that Thomas Barr wasn’t going through to the European Championship final of the 400 metres hurdles. Other times simply ran away and like the Tokyo Olympics last summer he missed out by one place.
The bronze medal winner from four years ago, and running out in lane eight, Barr possibly knew for himself that times were going to matter more than positions, and so it proved. Friday’s eight-man final invited only the top two across the three semi-finals, plus two more non-automatic qualifiers.
Out in the first heat, and in that outside lane, Barr’s season best suggested a top-two might be beyond him. As expected Wilfried Happio took the win in 48.89, the French athlete finished fourth in the World Championships last month and improved to 47.41 this summer. Stalking him closely was the German Joshua Abuaku, who nailed that second automatic spot in 49.05.
Then came Barr, the 30 year-old pouring out everything he had left knowing time and not position now meant everything. He finished third in a season best of 49.30, at that point the best non-automatic qualifier along with Britain’s Seamus Derbyshire.
That meant sitting in the hot seat, where the athletes sitting in those positions await what unfolds next — and it all changed soon after defending champion and world record holder Kartsen Warholm of Norway won his second semi-final in 48.38. Third and fourth there, 48.81 for Julian Watrim from Belgian, and 49.10 for Julien Bonvin from Switzerland, took over in the hot seat.
They stayed there too, the third semi-final was won in 49.34 by Yasmani Coppello from Turkey, slower than Barr’s time of 49.30. It was all about positions in the end, and Barr missed out by one.
So near and again so far, his national record time of 47.95 goes back six years now to his fourth place finish at the Rio Olympics, although he ran his second fastest time in Tokyo last year, 48.26 seconds, despite clipping the last hurdle and missing out on that final by just one place. An Achilles injury halted his summer training for several weeks in June and that surely cost him here too.
“I’ve come to these championships enough and I know the disappointment is huge, but it’s also fleeting,” Barr said in his typically positive style. “If I was to allow it drag me far down, I wouldn’t come back year on year. I’ve had my share of good luck, this year was one of those unlucky, frustrating years.”
There was still exciting progress from some of the other Irish here, Mark English and Louise Shanahan moving on to Friday’s 800m semi-finals, Michelle Finn also advancing to the final of the 3,000m steeplechase on Saturday as one of the non-automatic qualifiers.
English, the bronze medal winner from 2014, came to Munich very much on form and intent on making Sunday’s final at the very least: he raced that way too, getting out aggressively before settling nicely on the curb at the bell.
A bold and classy move down the back stretch saw English sneak inside an open door left by the Frenchman Benjamin Robert, and the Donegal doctor never looked back after that — brilliantly holding his form around the final bend and down the homestretch too, nailing the win in 1:47.54. Robert held on for second.
“I felt I had a little bit more left, it was comfortable,” English said. “There were a lot of good guys in that, a world silver medallist and four guys who made the world semi-final.” Indeed that world silver medallist, Amel Tuka, missed out on qualification in fourth.
In the second heat, John Fitzsimons went out equally aggressively only he possibly paid a price, getting caught up in the bunch sprint around the final bend and he finished in 1.48.22 in seventh — that heat was won in 1:47.49 by Patryk Dobek from Poland.
Already the man to beat looks like Britain’s Jake Wightman, the world 1,500m champion, who won the first heat the fastest of all in 1:45.94, a season’s best. Those semi-finals are set for Friday evening (7.27 Irish time), just before Ciara Mageean goes in the women’s 1,500m final with her own self-confused hopes of challenging Laura Muir for gold.
Shortly after that Louise Shanahan ran a smart race backing up her ever-improving experience to finish third in her 800m heat, securing one of the top three automatic qualifying places. Those semi-finals are set for Friday morning (9.50am).
The Cork runner, who earlier this summer broke the Irish 800m record with her 1:59.42 in Belfast, imposed herself at the front of the race, she passed halfway in just over 60 seconds and held her form when Renelle Lamote from France made her move, taking the win in 2:02.22. Britain’s Alexandra Bell came second in 2:02.45, with Shanahan finishing strongly too, always safe in third in 2:02.80.
Shanahan, currently a PhD student in quantum physics at Cambridge, qualified 12th fastest overall.
Earlier, Ireland’s Finn qualified for Saturday’s 3,000m steeplechase final, placing seventh after a strong surge over the last lap, going through as one of the fastest non-automatic qualifiers in 9:49.85. That was the fastest of the two heats, and was won in 9:30.93 by Luiza Gega from Albania.
Eilish Flanagan found it harder going in her heat finishing 12th, the 2019 European Under-23 silver medallist finished in 10:00.72.
Later in the session, Marcus Lawler also bowed out in the heats of the 200m semi-finals, coming seventh in his heat in 21.10, well down on his best of 20.40. The win there going to Taymir Burnet of the Netherlands in 20.48.
Irish athletes in action Thursday (all times Irish)
11.30am Men’s 200m Heats: Marcus Lawler
8.05pm: Men’s 1,500m final: Andrew Coscoran
8.25pm Women’s 5000m Final: Roisin Flanagan