Olympian Thomas Barr, once nicknamed 'Bambi' for his lack of hurdling skills

Olympian Thomas Barr, once nicknamed 'Bambi' for his lack of hurdling skills

Five years ago, Thomas Barr's athletic coaches nicknamed him "Bambi", because of his complete lack of skill at jumping hurdles writes David Raleigh.

At the beginning, his initial attempts at clearing the hurdles left him on the ground, with his legs in the air, resembling the Disney deer attempting to skate on ice.

"When he first came to us he was a complete novice - in fact he was known as 'Bambi', because he was very weak. He didn't know anything about the event that he was doing," explained Hayley Harrison, one half of Barr's coaching duo.

Despite been up against all of the odds, which included a serious hip condition, that continues to threaten his career, Barr performed heroically as he became the first Irish man in over 80 years to compete in an Olympic 400m hurdles final.

His coaches, Hayley and Drew Harrison, who have 21 years of experience in bringing athletes to Olympic Games, were brought to tears as their latest prodigy came within a cats whisker of a medal.

"What he has managed is quiet astonishing. We couldn't be prouder of him," Hayley , a native of Bolton, England, added.

Due to a labrum tear in his his joint, Barr's coaches revealed he was unable to run for 13 weeks straight earlier this year, throwing his Olympic plans into disarray.

Olympian Thomas Barr, once nicknamed 'Bambi' for his lack of hurdling skills

"It's not going to get any better, so we have struggled with it. Did we think he'd be able to get to this point...No...because when it does flare up he literally can't run," Ms Harrison added.

With tears in his eyes, Mr Harrison, from Glasgow, said: "He gave it everything he had. The medals went to other people and they deserved it. He'll do it next time. He is absolutely fantastic."

The Harrison's, who have coached five different Olympians - including Barr's sister Jessie Barr - and who have brought over 70 athletes to major championships around the world, said they could not afford to travel to Brazil. Blaming red tape and the accreditation decision-making-process, they were both left watching Barr's historic performance from the confines of the UL Arena where they trained "Bambi" to be an Olympian.

"That's another headache," said Mr Harrison, who explained they did not received any funding to go to Brazil.

"Our plan was that Hayley would go. She put a formal application in about 12-18 months ago, but for a number of reasons, we found out late that any accreditation would be very limited, and we (found out) we would have to fund her visit, accommodation, flights, everything," he said.

Astonishingly, Mr Harrison also claimed that even if they had been able to fund travel and accommodation, they would not have been guaranteed complete access to Barr at his training camp in Rio. "There seemed to be limited opportunity for Hayley to actually be with Thomas at the training camp, which is the most important thing. So, it was best to stay here," he added.

Asked if this was a criticism of these particular games, Mr Harrison replied: "We don't know."

"To be honest, we don't know how the decisions are made, and we wouldn't want to criticise anybody about it, but it is unfortunate," he added.

"But, we have to deal with what we've got, and work with Thomas from (Limerick). So that's what we're doing," he said.

UL came to a standstill for an hour as hundreds of Barr's supporters, including fellow athletes, students, and members of the public, filed into the UL Arena to watch the race on a big screen.

Afterwards, an exhausted Dave Mahedy, Director of Sport at UL, said: "We were pushing and blowing him over the line. Oh my god, he was super. He will get a heroes welcome."

Paul McCutcheon, Vice President, UL, added: "In our eyes he's a champion athlete and a champion student."

Tipperary couple, Chris and Yvonne Fogarty, who travelled with their sons Cillian, (six months), and Matthew, (3), to watch the big screen, said: "It was wonderful. He ran an excellent race. He did Ireland proud, and he did Limerick proud, and he did UL proud," they said.

It was also a moment to savour for Barr's sister's tiny pet dog "Lilly Barr", who arrived in Olympic style, dressed in a green jersey and donning a tricolour, emblazoned with the Barr family catchphrase: "Yes Boyz".

Jessie Barr's partner, Paul McCarroll, who looked after the four-legged runner for the day, while Ms Barr performed her punditry duties on RTE television, said of Barr's record breaking Rio performance: "Words can't describe it, words don't do it justice. He was absolutely amazing. He's going to be hungry for it now. It was so close. (The bronze medal) was just dangled in front of him. He'll come back again stronger and take it away next time."

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