European hurdles final presents outside chance for Thomas Barr
Ireland’s medal hope drawn in lane eight but strong finishing speed good reason for optimism
At age 26 Thomas Barr is in his prime and coming into form. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Try imagining a race where everything can be heard but not seen and danger comes just soon enough or else just too late. Like a piece of glass left there on the beach.
And in a near flat-out lap of the track lined with 10 hurdles, each 3ft high, where anything can and often does go wrong, against seven other runners, six of whom have run faster than you this season.
All part of imagining Thomas Barr winning a European Championship medal, running out in lane eight, in the final of the 400m hurdles – none of which is to say he does not have a chance (7.15pm Irish time).
Barr won’t see any of his rivals – at the earliest or latest – until he comes into the homestretch and only he can do the math on that. He will need to improve on his season’s best of 48.99 seconds to come close to a podium finish and join that elite list of Irish medal winners at these championships: Delany, Murphy, Coghlan, O’Sullivan, Carroll, O’Rourke, Heffernan, English and Mageean.
At 26 he is in his prime, coming into form and may not get a better chance, even if running out in lane eight. The final includes two of the very best in the business in world champion Karsten Warlhom from Norway (who last night also qualified for the 400m final on Friday) and Yasmani Copello from Turkey, plus Rasmus Magi from Estonia, who won silver four years ago, and the fast improving 22-year-old Patryk Dobek from Poland.
Barr does not have to look too far back for inspiration. American Kori Carter won the gold medal in the women’s 400m hurdles at last summer’s World Championships in London from the outside lane and it is definitely better than lane one.
Chances are Warlhom, who has run 47.65 this season, will close on him long before the homestretch. So if Barr is to win a medal it will be decided on the finish line, as most hurdles races are – but in Barr’s case that finish line juncture is his strongest part.
Barr aptly describes it as like running with the blinkers on, concentrating on his own race – as much as he would be anyway. “It will be difficult,” he says, “not having anyone to gauge but it will force me to put on the blinkers and just go for it. And go really hard, the first 200m in particular. To me, I can take positives and negatives from each lane. In lane one, you have a view of the whole field. In lane eight, it’s not as sharp a turn, so you can actually attack the hurdles a lot more.
“And I’ve actually run in every lane possible at major championships. Like in Beijing, at the 2015 World Championships, I was in lane nine, twice. Obviously I’d prefer lane four, five or six, but it is what it is. I could finish last or I could finish first or anywhere in between. But I think a medal is there just as much as I think a medal isn’t there.”