One year out Thomas Barr starts Olympic countdown to Tokyo

For now, 400m hurdler focusing on World Athletics Championships in Doha in September

Olympic hurdler and Indeed ambassador Thomas Barr launches #TalentUnleashed to mark one year to the day until the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Olympic hurdler and Indeed ambassador Thomas Barr launches #TalentUnleashed to mark one year to the day until the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

July 24th, 2020 – only 365 days to Tokyo!

No one loves the big countdown more than the Olympics, hours and minutes included, and for Thomas Barr it already feels like that date has been looming large over his entire life.

That’s because it also happens to be his birthday, which means 365 days from today – not forgetting 2020 is a leap year – Barr will turn 28 on the same Friday the Games of the 32nd Olympiad begin inside the newly refurbished National Stadium in Tokyo.

Which is getting a little far ahead on both counts. Barr still has a lot to get through this year, including the World Athletics Championships in Doha in late September, and he’s not even close to circling any Tokyo 2020 dates in his diary just yet.

“I barely even have a diary as it is,” he says.

“I am very much short-sighted, and all I’m thinking about is my next hurdles session tomorrow. Then it’s the National Championships at the weekend, the European Team Championships, and races in Birmingham and Zurich, maybe one or two more, before Doha.

“I’m lucky my coach Hayley Harrison is very organised, she knows how to slot in all the training, the racing, and I just go along. But everything is built around the major championships. Tokyo is just about close enough to get me exited, just not close enough to get me focusing. We still have Doha, obviously, two months away, and that’s the big focus for now.”

Still, part of that early 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 the 400 metres hurdles in Rio three years ago – by .05 of a second.

His time that day of 47.97 seconds remains his lifetime best, and in some ways the event has moved on considerably since Rio, Norway’s Karsten Warholm, who didn’t make the final in Rio, clocking a national record of 47.12 in the London Diamond League last weekend

Barr won the European bronze behind Warholm in Berlin last summer, and believes he can get back into sub-48 second territory in time for Doha. Abderraham Samba from Qatar has also run 47.27, the American Rai Benjamin 47.58, and yet part of the beauty of 400m hurdling is that form often goes out the window come championship finals.

Barr was proof of that in Rio, his fourth place finish coming off a summer interrupted by injury, leaving him with the feeling: what if?

The outsider

“Yeah, I was the outsider coming in, even from the semi-final. Anything can happen in the race, everything is wide open, and if I can get myself into the final in Doha, I’d like to think I could challenge for medals.

“It really doesn’t feel like it’s three years since Rio either, and after I was fourth, I thought, if I ever come close to that again I’ll be doing well. In a way I felt it was a chance missed, but taking a step back, I can understand where you’d be disappointed with a great result, knowing how close you are. So I get excited to think what could happen if I get a full year of training under my belt, and go out and do the same again.”

Speaking at the launch event of Team Ireland partner Indeed, who will champion several Irish athletes in their hopes of qualifying for Tokyo, Barr also looks back in Rio and wonders in another way.

Second-place finisher Boniface Tumuti from Kenya, who ran a national record on 47.78 in an event where Kenya had no tradition, hasn’t broken 50 seconds in the three years since, and appears to have dropped off the circuit completely.

Considering Kenya’s anti-doping record during and since Rio, athletics team manager Michael Rotich banned for 10 years for providing advance notice to athletes of doping tests, women’s marathon gold medallist Jemima Sumgong banned for eight years in January for fabricated her medical records, and 1,500 champion from 2008 Asbel Kiprop also freshly banned for doping, there is that feeling: what else might be?

“I wouldn’t say I do [wonder] often, sometimes I have, but I wouldn’t dwell on it, because there’s nothing I can do about it,” says Barr.

“He [Tumuti] completely disappeared under the rug. And especially considering Ireland has one of the best anti-doping programmes, there’s millions pumped in every year, and I’m tested quite regularly. It’d be nice to know it’s done across the board. It’s just one of the ongoing struggles with the sport, isn’t it?”

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