‘In a final anything can happen’ - Thomas Barr bridges 84-year gap

National record smashed as Thomas Barr blazes into Thursday’s 400m hurdles final

Thomas Barr of Ireland after reaching the men’s 400m hurdles final on Tuesday night. Photograph: EPA

Thomas Barr of Ireland after reaching the men’s 400m hurdles final on Tuesday night. Photograph: EPA

 

Our first Olympic sprint event finalist in 84 years, knocking a chunk off his Irish record and winning with what looked like considerable ease, and still Thomas Barr doesn’t describe it as the perfect race.

Then again he might want to save that until Thursday, because in getting into the 400 metres hurdles final, Barr has suddenly given himself every chance of winning an Olympic medal. He was actually the third fastest across the three semi-finals: you do the math.

In doing so Barr certainly produced the performance of his career so far, his 48.39 seconds taking 0.26 off his Irish record set last year. In winning his semi-final he’s also earned himself an ideal draw, starting in lane four for the eight-man showdown, set for 4pm Irish time on Thursday afternoon.

“It wasn’t far off the perfect race,” he said, “but I’m not going to say it was, not yet, because I would like to go faster. There are definitely one or two things I can work on. I don’t think I got out as hard as I could have, and there’s definitely 0.10 of a second there.

“But I didn’t know what to do, in the end, where to look, especially when I saw the time. There was too much going on. The time, winning the race. I didn’t know what to focus on. I was just shaking like a leaf, and I still am.

“But delighted and happy and relieved that everything came together at the right time, because I could just as easily have been not here, not in Rio, and yet here I am thinking about a final in two days time. And that’s incredible.”

Indeed it was – the 24-year-old not only competing in his first Olympics, but coming off a season so far riddled with injury, first his hip, then his groin. In making the final he neatly book-ends those 84 years because the last Irish athlete to make a sprint event was Bob Tisdall, also in the 400m hurdles, back at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932, where of course he stunned all the big favourites of the time to win the gold medal.

Indeed Barr had jested after his heat that should he do the same he would have to win the gold medal too: “Of course I did say it joking, but anything is possible. Those semi-finals were a real shake-up. Some of the top guys didn’t make it through. I felt a 48.5 was right within my reach, if I just nailed it, and then I come away with 48.39, which is ridiculous.”

Second Captains

From that perspective it may well have been the perfect race, Barr nailing all 10 hurdles with inch-perfect stride, and although he was chasing the Norwegian Karsten Warholm and the Kenyan Haron Koech coming into the home stretch, he nailed them both too coming off the final hurdle. Winning with 0.10 to spare over Koech.

“I just stayed relaxed all the way, kept an eye on the Norwegian, but once I came into the home stretch, I knew I had it, as long as I didn’t hit the last hurdle. I don’t mean to be cocky but I know I have a strong finish compared to a lot of guys in the world, and I know if I’m in touching distance I can actually catch guys. And I was nearly smiling coming over the last hurdle, thinking ‘I have this...’

“I’ll chat to my coach, Hayley Harrison, when I get back, and I know she’ll have a couple of things to nitpick at. But hopefully I can correct them, and that’s the great thing about championships. Because on day one I was very nervous, going into the unknown, coming off a European Championships where I’d only run 50 seconds.

“And I’ve been riddled with injury this season, and it was only yesterday, after my heat, and that I finally got some confidence back. But as rounds go through I find it gets easier, as I get familiar with the warm-up track, the call room, and all that. And in a final anything can happen. Anything can happen.”

Indeed it sounds so good he said it twice: the lane draw is certainly perfect, and only the American Kerron Clement, who won the first semi-final in 48.26, and the Jamaican Annsert Whyte, who won the second semi-final in a personal best of 48.32, ended up with quicker times. The next best after Barr’s 48.39 was Javier Culson, from Puerto Rico, who ran 48.46, also a season best.

The 24 hours before the final will certainly be useful too as Barr’s begins to come down from the race of his career to date, then go about delivering the perfect one.

The Olympics final line-up: 400m hurdles -

1 Rasmus Mägi EST 48.55 (PB)

2 Yasmani Copello TUR 48.42

3 Javier Culson PUR 48.46

4 Thomas Barr IRL 48.39

5 Kerron Clement USA 48.26

6 Annsert Whyte JAM 48.32

7 Boniface Mucheru Tumuti KEN 48.85

8 Haron Koech KEN 48.49 48.49

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