Family, friends of Thomas Barr hail ‘heroic’ fourth place finish

Supporters gather in Waterford and University of Limerick to watch Rio final

 

They cheered when he arrived on the track. They cheered when he was introduced to the stadium. They cheered when he took his position on the blocks. They screamed as he mounted a late, late challenge for a medal.

He didn’t quite make it but still they cheered.

“I’m so happy,” said Thomas Barr’s sister Becky in The Cove bar in Waterford city, where she and other family members along with friends, team-mates from Ferrybank AC and many others willed the 24-year-old on in Rio.

“He’s going to be a little bit sickened but he put in the race of his life. He couldn’t do any more, literally. I’m so happy for him,” said Becky as her other Olympian sibling, Jessie, appeared on the TV screens in her role as analyst.

Thomas’s parents Martina and Tommy are in Rio where they’ve been witnessing their son’s history-making performances.

“Our hero,” was the shout from one of the 200-odd supporters who packed into bar, a dozen kilometres from the Barrs’ home village of Dunmore East, as Thomas gave a gracious, dignified interview to RTÉ shortly after the race.

Bríd Golden of Ferrybank AC coached Thomas from when he first joined the club at 10 years of age, along with her husband Alan, and said she was “thrilled” by her protege’s performance in breaking the 400m hurdle national record once again.

“Fourth place in an Olympic Games is outstanding. It’s an absolute sensation, to be honest.”

He was “so, so close” to a medal, all the same, a point echoed by Mary Ashe, the cathaoirleach of the Munster Schools Athletics board. “He’ll be back.”

Also present to watch on the television screens were Thomas’s aunt and uncle Jackie and Jim French, cousin Isobella, grandmother Breda French, and many friends and colleagues who trained alongside him over the years during his odyssey from fun-loving, smiling, laid-back teenager - “a gangly, skinny kid” as 800m international Niall Tuohy put it - to Olympic finalist.

Hundreds more supporters gathered at University of Limerick Sports Arena, including Barr’s coaches husband and wife team Hayley and Drew Harrison, to watch the race on a giant screen.

“He couldn’t have given it anymore, he’s given a life time best what more can you ask?” said Drew.

“When you look at what he has managed to put together there: three races back to back in some of his fastest races ever, it’s quite astonishing and I couldn’t be prouder of him,” added Hayley.

Barr, who will graduate with a first class honours degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Limerick next week, very nearly missed out on going to Rio because of a year blighted by injury.

“Because of this condition he has on his hip, it sometimes flares up and it sometimes doesn’t but it flared up so much this year we really didn’t think he would be getting onto the plane for Rio so that is just a phenomenal achievement I am really, really delighted,” explained Hayley.

Dave Mahedy, director of sport and recreation at UL Sports Arena, said: “It will give the other students such a great boost.

“If you are training with someone who can go to a final in an Olympic Games that has to give you a boost and it gives you something to work on and to work towards because if you’re mate can do that surely you can too.”

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