Thomas Barr all smiles for ‘insane’ reception at graduation ceremony

By David Raleigh

"Nice guys finish last," so goes the old sports adage - Irish Olympian Thomas Patrick Barr is one of the truer exceptions.

With his record-breaking 400m hurdle Olympic final performance from Rio just eight days old, Barr was conferred with a Masters Degree in Sports Performance, at the University of Limerick, Friday.

None of his 24 fellow class graduates could argue the accolade "master in sports performance" rested best on the Waterford native's shoulders.

Thomas Barr pictured with his Grandmother Breda French after his Graduation from the University of Limerick. Picture: Brian Gavin Press 22
Thomas Barr pictured with his Grandmother Breda French after his Graduation from the University of Limerick. Picture: Brian Gavin Press 22

Barr received a standing ovation as well as his scroll in a thronged UL Concert Hall.

Speaking afterwards, he said of the tribute: "It was insane. I was nearly more taken aback by that than when I was running in the stadium (in Rio), because I was so out of my comfort zone. It was amazing."

Thomas Barr, centre, is pictured with his family, left to right, dad, Tommy, Grandmother, Breda French, mother Martina and sister Jessie Barr. Picture: Alan Place
Thomas Barr, centre, is pictured with his family, left to right, dad, Tommy, Grandmother, Breda French, mother Martina and sister Jessie Barr. Picture: Alan Place

His emphatic performance in Brazil, in which he became the first Irish man to run an Olympic 400m hurdle final in over 80 years, has "still has not sunk in," added Barr, who also has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from UL.

"I still feel like the same person, but now it just takes a bit longer to go down to the shop to get a bit of bread, because I have to chat to a lot people," he joked.

Thomas Barr shares a laugh with his sister and fellow Olympian Jessie Barr after the conferring ceremony. Picture: Alan Place
Thomas Barr shares a laugh with his sister and fellow Olympian Jessie Barr after the conferring ceremony. Picture: Alan Place

Barr said he owed everything to UL, where he met his coaches, Drew and Hayley Harrison. He also paid tribute to his parents, who convinced him to continue running when he had all but given up on an athletics career.

"I was on the verge of giving up the sport, but I got into a really good training group at UL, and, my parents convinced me to stick with it. I met my coaches Hayley and Drew Harrison, here. They brought me on to where I am today. I also joined up with Tommy Cummins, a strength and conditioning coach who's also based out of Limerick. It's a team that's really worked well."

Thomas had a chance to catch up with family and friends before the ceremony and shared a laugh with coach Hayley Harrison. Picture: Alan Place
Thomas had a chance to catch up with family and friends before the ceremony and shared a laugh with coach Hayley Harrison. Picture: Alan Place

The 24-year old whose academic skills still flourished despite him spending day and night on the UL athletics track, added: "I'm glad I came here. I've come away with two degrees as well."

Barr now has his sights firmly set on taking a medal at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

"I'm finished studying and I'm going to focus on my athletics career and be a full time athlete. I'll be based in UL for the next few years. I've a good set up here," he added.

"He is one of our greatest Olympians," UL President Don Barry noted.

Picture: Brian Gavin Press 22
Picture: Brian Gavin Press 22

Barr's family, including parents, Tommy and Martina, and sister Jessie - also a former track Olympian and UL graduate - all looked on proudly as "Bambi" was rightfully the toast of the day.

"We're very proud of him. He has excelled in both his athletics career and his academic career - there's nothing more I can say," Barr's father said.

"He's got a smart head, and he blew us away in Rio. Today has been a really proud day for us," added mum Martina.

The last word was left to Barr's grandmother Breda French, (78), who gushed up at her inspirational grandson, and simply said: "I love him to bits."

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