Thomas Barr relieved to advance to 400m semi-finals

Hurdler initially fifth in his heat but is promoted to fourth after disqualification

Sometimes it’s good for things to go wrong. And in a flat-out race of 400 metres, which includes 10 3ft-high hurdles and executed on a virtual tightrope, they very often do.

It’s one reason Thomas Barr got through to the World Championship semi-finals – and truth is he’ll probably need something to go wrong for his opposition to make the final.

Drawn in the outside lane in the first of three races (8.20 on Monday evening), Barr will have the Olympic champion Kerron Clement for company, plus the rising star Karsten Warholm from Norway. That’s just for starters.

Only the top two (plus two fastest losers) progress: Barr did make that grade in last year’s Rio Olympics, running 47.97 when finishing fourth in the final, and has already seen one of the title favourites make their exit, Kyron McMaster from the Virgin Islands, the fastest man in the world this year with his 47.80 seconds disqualified for a hurdle infringement in Barr’s heat on Sunday morning.


Barr initially finished fifth, messing up his own stride pattern and clocking 49.79 seconds, which would have meant waiting to see was that enough to progress as a faster loser (it was, anyway). Only minutes after the finish, McMaster’s named flashed up with the dreaded “DQ” next to it.

“That’s what I love about championships, and hate about championships, anything can happen,” said Barr, given a rousing reception inside the Olympic Stadium. “That’s not how I wanted to get through, I wanted top two. I wanted 49-low, to get a good lane for tomorrow. If the job is done great, but I messed up a little on the top bend, messed up my stride pattern on the homestretch, was finishing on my right leg instead of my left, so didn’t have the usual drive.


“I was relaxed, focused on my own race, doing what I needed to do. It was just that top bend, my stride pattern, I had to reach into hurdle five, and because of that was a little far down on hurdle six, changed down, and never got my optimum stride patter coming home. Maybe a little complacency, I’m not sure.

“But I live for championships, and that’s why I gave up so many races on the circuit this year. I just wanted to get out here, to London, where everything is in the time boat. Times don’t matter, and it’s about dealing with the pressure.”

At 25, Barr has both the experience and nerve for this level of running: what he will need to deliver is his own perfect race, ensuring nothing whatsoever goes wrong: “I know if I tidy up a few technical things, there’s a 49.2 there. I always feel this way after the first heat, and hopefully here will be more in the legs.

“The semi-final is always a new race. It’s two from each, and two, to make the final, and I just have to put myself in that place. But yeah, I can’t mess about.”

Later on Sunday, around the streets of London, Mick Clohisey finished a well satisfied 22nd in the marathon, his 2:16.21, a season best, also going some way towards making amends for the disappointment of last year’s Rio Olympics, where he finished 103rd.

Kenya’s Geoffrey Kipkorir Kirui prevailed in a compelling east African duel with Ethiopian Tamirat Tola, winning in 2:08:27. Clohisey, now 31, passed the halfway mark in 44th place, in 1:06.51, but slowly worked his way through the field to get inside the top-25 – as was his goal, just over a minute off his lifetime best of 2:15.11.


Not so satisfied joy was Seán Hehir, who ended up 63rd, his 2:27.33, over 10 minutes outside his best. Claire Gibbons-McCarthy, the 41 year-old mother of four, was also well satisfied with her 33rd place in 2:38:36.

No such for Mark English. His preparations coming into London were far from ideal – on a few levels – and his lack of racing due to injury certainly appeared to catch up with him in Saturday’s 800m heats, his sixth-place finish in 1:48.01 well short of qualification.

“Fifth place is not what I wanted,” he said despondently. “But I knew it would be a tough race, would come to a sprint, because there were no front-runners in it. My plan was just to make sure I had something left for the last 200m, but didn’t have enough today, unfortunately.

“I haven’t had that same sharpness as last year, maybe the year before, and that’s what happens when you get an interrupted season. I’ve a nerve injury, and your legs need blood and nerve supply, and if any of those are compromised, but . . . I had to go out there and give it a shot. But I’ll get back and get ready for the next season.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics