Thomas Barr: ‘I left it all on the track, and I’m thrilled with that’
The Irish hurdler overcame some nerves to deliver his best ever race to finish in fourth
Ireland’s Tomas Barr was desperately unlucky not to win a medal on Thursday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
There is no consolation prize for finishing fourth in the Olympics, only a quick high-five from the winner, a slap on the back from second and third, and a teasing sense of torment that will last at least another four years.
Not that Thomas Barr needed much consoling, his fourth-place finish in the 400m hurdles initially greeted with some anguish, then promptly replaced by the bright and chirpy smile that rarely leaves his face, even when he needs it to.
There’s certainly no consolation from the fact his 47.97 seconds would have won him an Olympic medal in the last three editions of this race: four years ago in London, it would have won him bronze; in Beijing 2008 and Athens 2004 it would have won him silver.
It was also the first time in 15 years that four men in the same race went under 48 seconds.
“Typical, isn’t it?” he said, still without the slightest air of disappointment.
“Fourth is probably the best and the worst place to come, just outside of the medals. Especially when I was so close, coming down the homestretch, I really thought I was in contention.
“Maybe I just didn’t execute the perfect race, but left everything on the track, and I’m thrilled with that. That 47 seconds has really put me on the map now. But so, so close, and I thought maybe I might have even sneaked it on the line. You’re never quite sure in the dip.
“But fourth place, after the haphazard season I’ve had, is astonishing. That is thanks to my coaches Hayley and Drew [Harrison] at home, and Hayley, who wrote the programme the last few weeks, has been a genius.”
He said all along he’d need to run the perfect race in the final to win a medal, and he came tantalisingly close – on both counts: Kerron Clement from the US won gold in 47.73, ahead of Kenya’s Boniface Tumuti (47.78).
Yasmani Copello, the Cuban-born athlete, now representing Turkey, won bronze in 47.92, and immediately fell over such was his effort to stay ahead of Barr.
Perhaps crucially, Barr had never actually been in a medal position, lying sixth down the back stretch, fifth into the home stretch, before simply running out of track.
“You’re talking half a metre. Not even. Obviously he [Copello] was ahead, but if I had another metre or two, you never know. I definitely lost my stride on the seventh hurdle a little bit. I definitely wasn’t as confident over the top bend as I was the semi-final. If I could rewind back, definitely hurdle seven and eight, even nine and 10 I stumbled a little bit; but what is the perfect race, at the end of the day, if I still come home in 47.7?”
It was a tense race from the gun – the first time: Javier Culson from Puerto Rico, who had run 47.72, false-started in lane three, just inside Barr, and with was immediately disqualified.
Culson had won bronze in London four years ago.
“No, it didn’t bother me,” said Barr, the 24 year-old from Waterford, who was the youngest and least experienced of the eight finalists. “I don’t want Culson to hear me say this but it was one less person to worry about. Especially on my direct inside. But I was quite nervous, felt good mentally, but physically I felt a little bit tired and lethargic, despite the caffeine that I took beforehand.”
Bleeding for gold
Double world champion and silver medallist from Beijing 2008, Clement had declared himself “bleeding for gold”, and produced his best race in years. Still, it’s hard to see how Barr could have raced differently. In the end, he didn’t lose third, but rather won fourth.
“I kept thinking if I could pull it off, there was a medal for the taking, constantly replaying the past two races in my head, And there were little things in my head saying ‘what if this happens’ . . . But as soon as I got out of the blocks I just ran the race. It’s the Olympic Games, it’s the most prestigious event of all, and it won’t fully sink in until I’ve had time to think about it.”