Thomas Barr secures 400 metre hurdle semi-final spot

Barr remains on course to become first Irish man to reach World Championships final

It looked like being close and then Thomas Barr nailed it, sealing his place in the 400 metres hurdles semi-finals on day one of the World Athletics Championships in Beijing.

His third place finish - clocking 49.20 seconds - earned Barr one of the automatic qualifying spots, although he did have to work hard for it. Drawn in the outside line, Barr was a little down on the leaders coming into the homestretch, before raising a considerable gallop to bring home a close third.

Victory went to Yasmani Copello from Turkey, running in the lane immediately inside Barr, who produced a national record of 48.89 seconds, with Rasmus Magi from Estonia just holding Barr for second, clocking 49.19.

“I’m glad I had that kick in the last 50m, or else I don’t think I’d be in that semi-final,” said Barr. “I was hoping to run a little faster, to secure myself a good lane for tomorrow. Running out in lane nine maybe I lost focus a slight little bit. It felt like an okay race, fitness wise, but technically it wasn’t great. But I got the job done, and I’d be hopeful for a better race tomorrow.”


The top four were all assured qualification for tomorrow’s semi-finals, although there were several notable casualties across the five heats: defending champion Jehue Gordon from Trinidad failed to progress from the opening heat, and former World champion Bershawn Jackson, the fastest in the world this year, also failed to progress from Barr’s heat, although he has been hampered by injury.

Barr’s next quest is to try to claim a place in the final, a feat never before achieved by an Irish athlete: those three semi-finals (set for Sunday at 11:40 Irish times) will see only the top two, plus the two fastest losers, progress. If he can run close to his Irish record of 48.65 seconds, however, Barr certainly has a chance.

The fastest qualifier from the five heats was surprisingly the Kenyan, Nicholas Bett, who clocked 48.37, and Kenya also won the second heat thanks to Boniface Tumuti, who ran 48.79. Barr's 49.20 seconds ranked him 18th fastest of the overall qualifiers.

In the morning session, things didn't go entirely to plan for Mark English, although after a slightly anxious wait, he also found himself safely through to the semi-finals of the 800 metres.

It was, as expected, extremely competitive. Running in the third of six heats, English needed to finish in the top three to earn automatic qualification - or else rely on being one of the six fastest-losers.

English certainly ran with that intention, positioning himself in third place during the opening lap, passed 52.52 seconds; still holding third into the homestretch, he was then passed by Amel Tuka from Bosnia, and Nader Belhanbel from Morocco, and so ended up fifth, clocking 1:46.69.

Indeed it ranked him 12th fastest overall of the 16 athletes who went through to the semi-finals. That left the UCD medical student the second fastest-loser, at the time, and although two more times eclipsed that in the fourth heat, English was still safe with his 1:46.69. The American Erik Sowinski also progressed from fourth place with his 1:46.39 - with Tuka taking the win in 1:46.12

Those three 800m semi-finals are set for tomorrow (Sunday), at 1.15pm Irish time - where only the top two, plus the two fastest-losers, will progress to Tuesday’s final.

“I’m through to my first ever semi-final at a World Championships, and I’m delighted with that,” said English. “I was tying up a little, at the finish, but talking to some of the other athletes, a lot of them felt the same. I’d planned to go out fast, and pass the bell in about 52 seconds, knowing if you run 1:46 that will always give you a good chance of going through. It’s all about running as fast as possible in the semi-final now. I’m excited to be there, and looking forward to giving it a bang.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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