Seven in a row - Thomas Barr the class act at Santry
Barr fell just short of his championship best, but retained his national 400m hurdle title
Thomas Barr on his way to winning the 400m hurdles title on Sunday in Santry. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
He wanted a proper final test run and Thomas Barr got exactly that, pressed right to the last hurdle before nailing down his seventh straight national title – and with that the perfect send off for the World Athletics Championships in London.
Barr fell just short of his 49.68 championship best performance but as a 400m hurdle race he got everything else out of it. Neck-and-neck with his training partner Paul Byrne from the St Abbans club in Laois as they hit the homestretch, before Barr – as once famously said about Alberto Juantorena – opened his legs and showed his class.
While Barr’s 49.79 was perfectly satisfying, Byrne will be disappointed with his 50.24, which was outside the sub-50 seconds he’s been chasing all season.
With London – beginning on August 4th – now fresh in Barr’s mind, there was some relief too that he’s over his recent hamstring tear.
“Delighted, a good race, which is what I wanted, and another national title as well,” said Barr. “I didn’t get the optimum stride pattern, but stayed relaxed, and finished strong, with a sub-50 second, perfect for now. I have missed some key races before London, so it’s back into the last block of training, just sharpen up, the fast stuff.”
On the day before his 25th birthday too – and of the only four Irish track or field qualifiers for London (along with Ciara Mageean, Mark English and Brian Gregan) Barr represents our chief, if not only, medal hope in London.
After his fourth place heroics at the Rio Olympics last summer (and remember, his 47.97 seconds was just .05 short of bronze) Barr knows the potential is there, but so too some pressure.
Mageean has qualified for the 1,500m in London, the UCD AC runner moving down a distance to win back the women’s 800m title, leading all the way but she found herself under unexpected pressure in the closing strides – Claire Mooney finishing like the proverbial freight train, only to run out of track in the end.
Mageean took the win in 2:04.06, just 0.17 ahead of Mooney - the former 400m specialist, who runs with Naas AC.
“Definitely closer that I thought,” admitted Mageean. “I would have wanted to finish a bit stronger, but I need to be tough like that, work on that finish.
“Getting two races back-to-back this weekend has been perfect for London, and I’m going over there looking to make that final, knowing I’m being part of the best athletes in the world.”
English has qualified for his third World Championships in the 800m, and bossed his way to a fifth national title, also in the colours of UCD AC with an equally satisfied mind.
Like Barr, his preparations have been disrupted with a quad muscle injury, not that it showed as English wrote some poetry in motion in the homestretch to win in 1:50.89.
“This is definitely a good boost before London,” said English – his 25 second final 200m certainly evidence of that. “My work was cut out a little bit, but I’m happy with the win, happy with the performance, and very happy to get a race like that in the legs.”
His nearest rival in the end was Kieran Kelly from Raheny, who ran 1:15.07, with Karl Griffin’s fast finish earning him bronze in 1:52.44, another racing in the colours of UCD AC.
And so to Brian Gregan, in the form of his life this summer, recently lowering his 400m best to 45.26 – and duly producing the most dominating performance of the championships here with his 45.74 seconds, just off the championship record of 45.58.
A home victory too, for Clonliffe AC, and everything about Gregan’s display breathed confidence ahead of London: “I knew I was the man to beat here, but the belief is back, and I executed the race I needed,” he said. “I needed to get out well, and once I hit the last 100m it’s just about keeping everything in a straight line after that.”
Which is exactly what Gregan did – definitely heading to London in the right direction. His eighth successive race win, and fourth national title.
There was a big surprise in the women’s 400m with Kilkenny’s Cliodha Manning upsetting title favourite Sinead Denny, clocking 53.25: “It’s kind of what dreams are made of”, said Manning, an athlete definitely about to make a name for herself.”
There was an upset in every sense on the penultimate lap of the women’s 3,000m steeplechase, two-time champion Michelle Finn crashing over the hurdle, and despite bravely continuing, Kerry O’Flaherty from Down took her first title.
Conor and Kevin Dooney made it a proud family distance double – with Kevin winning the 10,000m title for the first time on Saturday (29:30.16), before Conor came out the next day to win the 5,000m, also in the colours of Raheny Shamrock AC.
The American born Jeremy Phillips from Clonliffe Harriers took the fastest man in Ireland crown for this year, winning the 100m in a 10.40.
Meanwhile at the final day of the European Under-20 championships in Grosseto, Italy, Gina Akpe-Moses fell just short of adding to her medal tally as the Irish 4x100m relay women ended up fourth. Akpe-Moses, who won gold in the 100m on Friday, ran the third leg but by then the Irish quartet had left themselves with a little too much to do. Ciara Neville was anchoring them, with Molly Scott and Sharlene Mawdsley completing the team.
However John Fitzsimons ran a brilliant race to win bronze over the 800m, despite being ranked 20th in the event, running 1:49.15.