Barr still set high with Tokyo on the horizon

Tokyo will present Barr with the chance to once again chase an Olympic medal

What's another year? Of all the reasons for staying philosophical about it - and he has many - Thomas Barr believes time is back on his side with the Tokyo Olympics coming around 12 months on.

No one loves the big countdown more than the Olympics, and for Barr the original date had a nice ring to it - July 24th, 2020, the day he turned 28, the same Friday the Games of the 32nd Olympiad were originally set to begin inside the newly refurbished National Stadium in Tokyo.

Instead, they’re now set to begin on July 23rd, 2021, the day before he turns 29; still plenty young for the 400 metres hurdles, although Barr already feels a fresher, hungrier version of himself will emerge next summer.

“If we’d gone ahead as normal, I was already at the point where I was asking myself ‘can I do another four-year cycle?’ Would my body allow me? Possibly. Mentally would I have been able to? That might have been the side that let me down.


“I definitely could have gone for another two, three years, but the fact I got that break this summer, am feeling a lot more refreshed, the next Olympic cycle, to Paris 2024, only being three years is much more manageable. All that has given me a fresh push, and perk almost.

“As controversial as it might be, given running is my profession, I’ve been involved in high performance sport since 2010, and in some ways having a summer off, and it was a bad year to have a summer off, given it was an Olympic year, and I was in fantastic shape, and I was disappointed.

“But it was nice to have a few weeks off in the summer, not worrying about athletics, life kind of slowed down a bit for the first time in that 10 year period. It was somewhat refreshing, out on the water and enjoy some jet-skiing, things I wouldn’t normally be able to do.

“So I’m taking that as a big positive, coming into this year really refreshed, chomping at the bit for next summer, and I mightn’t have had that if we were coming out of an Olympic year.”

Speaking on the day the first vaccine for Covid-19 was administered in the UK, to a 90-year-old native of Enniskillen, gives Barr added reason to be hopeful for a return to full racing next summer. His last serious race was at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, and although he dipped his spikes into three low-key races in September - clocking a best of 50.00 seconds - it all begins again in 2021.

Part of the excitement is the fact Tokyo will present Barr with the chance to once again chase the Olympic medal which fell just out his reach in Rio four years ago - by 0.05 of a second, his time that day of 47.97 remains his lifetime best. He can sympathise with those athletes desperate to get back racing, but he’s on his own timeline: “I can sense the frustration, and obviously we’re all trying to work towards different goals. And competition is always the big goal, indoors or outdoors. I’m not a big indoor runner, anyway. If it does open up, I’d like to do one or two.

“But, the fact the vaccine is now being rolled out, I think it’s only a matter of time before things do start to normalise again. At the moment, I’m just focusing on my own training. At the moment, the winter slog is still the winter slog. That still gets me going, I still enjoy that, so whether it was a normal year, or the year we’ve just had, there’s no real short-term goals anyway, and it’s the discipline you need to rely on.”

Thomas Barr was speaking at the launch of the Irish Life Health ‘Runuary’ programme, which is offering a range of free training programmes in January.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics