So near, yet so far for Thomas Barr

Sports review of 2016: Barr delivers in 400 metres final but misses out by .05 of a second

At just 24, the Waterford athlete had also become Ireland’s first Olympic sprint event finalist in 84 years, neatly tracing the trial back to Bob Tisdall at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.

At just 24, the Waterford athlete had also become Ireland’s first Olympic sprint event finalist in 84 years, neatly tracing the trial back to Bob Tisdall at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.

 

Olympic Stadium, Rio, August 18th
400 metres hurdles final

My dad texted me that night to say it was, definitely, Ireland’s closest ever fourth-place finish “by a mile” - which wasn’t much of an exaggeration: the 0.05 of a second which denied Thomas Barr an Olympic medal may as well have been a mile, such is the sense of infinite distance that comes with finishing fourth.

I haven’t yet seen a replay of the race since the hot Thursday morning in Rio, and don’t need to: it’s carved into memory, so complete was Barr’s effort in chasing the lead runners down the homestretch, only to fall ‘agonisingly’ close - and for once the word is justified.

His 47.97 seconds, improving again on the Irish record set in the semi-final, would have won bronze in London and silver at each of the two Olympics before that.

“Typical, isn’t it?” Barr said, still without the slightest air of disappointment, his fiercely competitive attitude towards his racing on track as refreshing as his relaxed attitude off of it

There was no disguising his satisfaction with fourth place either, particularly given his limited preparations due to injury. The American Kerron Clement needed a season’s best of 47.73 to win gold and grabbing silver ahead of Barr was the Kenyan Boniface Tumuti, the African champion, who ran 47.78, also a national record, with Yasmani Copello, the rangy Cuban-born athlete, now representing Turkey, winning bronze in 47.92, also a national record.

At just 24, the Waterford athlete had also become Ireland’s first Olympic sprint event finalist in 84 years, neatly tracing the trial back to Bob Tisdall, who showed up at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles similarly unheralded, to win the gold medal in the same event.

And after a season “riddled” with injury, the opportunities are only now beginning to shine - and the 2017 World Championships in London can’t come round quick enough. Eamonn Coghlan was similarly near and yet so far from Olympic bronze (twice, over 1,500m in 1976, and 5,000m in 1980) and so too was Sonia O’Sullivan over 3,000m, in 1992; within three years they’d both won a World Championship gold medal, and for Barr, that prospect may actually be closer still.

Low Light: The only pity about that day, like most days in Rio, was the lack of a real Olympic atmosphere, inside and outside the stadium; plus the lack of any group celebration afterwards, as those lucky enough to be in Rio spread out into the vast suburbs, in my case on the two-hour bus ride back to The Irish Times holding camp. A watered down Olympics in so many ways.

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