Thomas Barr is the Irish athlete of the year for 2016

‘This year made me realise I don’t need to be afraid of these guys. I’m at their level’

Thomas Barr of Ireland after finishing in fourth place with a new Irish record of 47.97 during the Men’s 400m hurdles final in the Olympic Stadium, Maracanã, during the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Thomas Barr of Ireland after finishing in fourth place with a new Irish record of 47.97 during the Men’s 400m hurdles final in the Olympic Stadium, Maracanã, during the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

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It may go down as one of the great near misses in our Olympic history but there was no disputing Thomas Barr the honour of Irish athlete of the year for 2016.

The popular Waterford man was declared the outright winner at the Irish Life Health/ National Athletics Awards in Dublin on Wednesday afternoon, the video replay of his 400m hurdles final in Rio that Thursday morning in August another reminder of just how close he’d come to winning an Olympic medal.

Barr’s time, 47.97 seconds, once again bettered his own Irish record and left him ‘agonisingly’ close - and for once the word is justified - to Olympic bronze: just .05 of a second, to be exact. His 47.97 would have won bronze in London and silver at each of the previous two Olympics before that.

Still 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.

He’s already looking ahead, however, to the World Championships next summer, back at the London Olympic stadium: “London will be as close as we’ll get to a World Championships,” says Barr. “Hopefully after all the momentum of this year we’ll have a big Irish contingent. This year made me realise I don’t need to be afraid of these guys. I’m at their level.”

Certainly no regrets about Rio either: “When I saw the time I was ecstatic, because 47 seconds is ridiculous territory. The buzz it generated was insane, and at the end of the day the biggest thing is to enjoy it.”

Also awarded on the day was Rob Heffernan, named Endurance Athlete of the Year award with his sixth place in the 50km Race Walk at the Olympics, in what was also his fifth successive Olympics.

Marcus O’Sullivan was also a popular inductee into the Athletics Ireland Hall of Fame, his long list of achievements including three gold medals at the World Indoor Championships over 1500m in 1987 (Indianapolis), 1989 (Budapest) and 1993 (Toronto); third on the all-time total sub-four minute miles, at 101, and also a four-time Olympian, in 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996, at both 800 metres and 1500 metres. He reached the 1500 metre final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

O’Sullivan also set an indoor 1,500m world record of 3:35.4 in February 1989, and won the prestigious Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games six times (1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, and 1996).

He is currently the head coach of Villanova and recently coached his 16th national champion Patrick Tiernan to the NCAA Cross Country title.

Former Athletics Ireland president Liam Hennessy was also named as the Lifetime Achievement Award recipient - the pinnacle volunteer award.

2016 Athletics Ireland Award Winners

Athlete of the Year: Thomas Barr (Ferrybank)

Hall of Fame: Marcus O’Sullivan

Lifetime service to Athletics: Liam Hennessy

Official of the year: Michael O’Hart

Under-20 Athlete: Adam King (Iveragh)

Under-23 Athlete: Siofra Cleirigh Buttner (DSD)

Endurance: Robert Heffernan (Togher)

Track and Field: Thomas Barr (Ferrybank)

Inspirational Performance: Phil Healy (Bandon)

Performance Club: Clonliffe Harriers

Development Club: Cushinstown AC

Team of the Year: Women’s Senior Team European Cross Country Championships

Service to Coaching: Donie Walsh (Leevale)

Mountain Runner: Men’s 35-age group Team Mountain Running World Champions

Master Athlete: Brian Lynch

Ultra Athlete: Eoin Keith (Sportsworld)

University Athlete: Michelle Finn (Leevale/UL)

Tailteann Schools Award: Michaela Walsh (Swinford)

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