Excited Barr looking to savour home comforts

Excited Barr looking to savour home comforts

Thomas Barr will bid to get his 2020 campaign off to a strong start when he takes to the track in Athlone for the AIT International Grand Prix tomorrow night (live on TG4, 7.30pm).

[timgcapThomas Barr will be competing against three-time World and European champion Pavel Maslak in tomorrow night’s 400m at the AIT International Grand Prix in Athlone.]ThomasBarrAITInternationalGrandPrixAthloneFeb2020_large.jpeg[/timgcap]

Barr faces a tough assignment in the men’s 400m, taking on three-time World and European champion Pavel Maslak of the Czech Republic and last year’s Europeanindoor bronze medalist Tony van Diepen of the Netherlands.

But the 28-year-old from Waterford is relishing his return to the midlands venue: “There’s just so much atmosphere, so much excitement, behind the race that I findmyself in the warm-up area watching what’s going on rather than warming up, and I just can’t wait to get out on the track.

“It increases the amount of nervous energy you have; when I’m getting up on to the track and seeing familiar faces and in the second lap of a 400, when things are starting to come down to the crunch, coming down the home straight and the whole roof is lifting off, you’re just floating over the line. It’s an amazing feeling.

“A few years ago when I won I was on the back foot coming off the final bend and I’ve never ever heard a crowd like it in my life. It’s anexperience I’ll never forget.”

With his parents also in attendance, the 400m hurdles specialist wants to put in a strong performance: “Every year I try and make it down to this event because for me, especially in the indoor arena, the crowd that the AIT Grand Prix brings is second to none. I don’t know if I’ve ever been to an event where the crowd is so close, and as well as that it’s a home crowd. I thrive off that support.

Even when I’m abroad I love going on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and seeing, if I’ve performed well, the amount of people who are getting behind it, whereas here in Ireland the crowd are no more than a metre away from you on the track and I absolutely love it.

“I’m running pretty well at the moment and this is a great place to start, a great springboard for the rest of the season for me.

“There’s not a huge amount of pressure on me as it’s not my main event so I’m looking forward to kick-starting the season.”

With his second Olympic Games on the horizon Barr is focused on getting the automatic qualifying time as quickly as possible:

“This is my only real indoor competition. I’m going to go straight back into training after this all the way through to probably early May, when I’ll start another block of competitions, just trying to get some race practice in.

"I’ll try and get myself high up on those rankings and get an automatic qualifying time of 48.90, which I didn’t get last year.

"Hopefully, I can get that in the bag nice and early and then it’s about trying to get race practice and get myself as prepared as I possibly can for Tokyo.”

Three events to watch

Men’s mile, 9:15pm

In Birmingham last year Samuel Tefera shook up the athletics world by breaking the indoor 1500m world record, clocking 3:31.04, and the Ethiopian is hoping for a similar encore in the concluding event tomorrow night in Athlone.

The 20-year-old will target the indoor mile world record of 3:47.01, currently held by compatriot Yomif Kejelcha.

It will be Tefera’s first race of the season and the odds will be stacked against him, but succeed or fail, the chase itself should be a thrilling climax. Young Irish stars Brian Fay and Darragh McElhinney are also in the line-up and should go close to the four-minute barrier.

Women’s 3000m, 8:37pm

There’s no better recipe for the success of an athletics meeting than home stars sticking it to international rivals, and that’s what we can expect in this 15-lap race as Ciara Mageean goes in search of the Irish indoor 3000m record, currently held by Mary Cullen at 8:43.74.

Mageean's best is the 8:55.09 she ran in 2015 but the 27-year-old opened her season in style with an Irish indoor 1500m record of 4:06.42 in Boston. Also in the field is teenage star Sarah Healy, recently returned from a stint of altitude training in the US.

Men’s 600m, 8pm

Mark English made the worst possible start to his 2020 season when trailing home last over 800m in New York last Saturday, having recently returned from a block of altitude training in South Africa.

But the 26-year-old has a habit of putting bad runs behind him with astonishing speed. Tomorrow night he drops down to 600m, arguably his best distance, and take on British 400m specialist Martyn Rooney along with British 800m specialist Guy Learmonth.

- Words: Cathal Dennehy.

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