Thomas Barr’s fourth-place finish in the men's 400m hurdles final saw him denied Olympic bronze at the Engenhão Olympic Stadium in Rio, smashing his own Irish record in the process writes Will Downing.
It the end, he genuinely could not have come any closer and within reason could not have done any more.
Barrmissed out by five-hundredths of a second behind bronze-medallist and European champion Yasmani Copello of Turkey
The Ferrybank AC and University Limerick athlete was helped by a false-start from London 2012 bronze-medallist Javier Culson of Puerto Rico on his inside lane – Culson being in lane 3, and Barr lane 4.
Culson immediately walked away from his blocks and broke into tears hunched at the side of the track at the thought that his best ever chance of an Olympic medal had gone.
It was in fact, a quite blatant false start, and Culson didn’t need to wait to be shown the red card.
With the field down to seven, Barr held his own on the back straight, but as usual, the leaders pushed away marginally ahead of him – Clement, Tumuti, Copello and Annsert Whyte of Jamaica.
Only Clement and Whyte had been faster than Barr in the semi-finals, and all three would go faster again here.
Barr was uncomfortable going over the fourth-last hurdle, not quite as smooth as usual on the final bend, but his trademark surge in the closing straight, if anything, was better ever.
But the turn, Barr was fifth, behind Clement, Whyte, and the two Kenyans, Tumuti and Keoch.
Copello was bringing himself level with Barr alongside on the inside lane 2, with the Cuban Turkish declare overtaking Barr to move up to fifth, pushing the Dunmore East man to sixth.
From there, Barr kicked in, shooting past Koech and then Whyte to bring himself up to fourth.
However, he couldn’t quite gobble up Copello on the line – the Turkish falling over just past the line.
Barr clocked 47.97 seconds, a magnificent new Irish national record, but marginally not quite good enough for a medal.
Kerron Clement of the USA winning in 47.73, followed by Boniface Tumuti of Kenya second in 47.78, and Turkey's Yasmani Copello third in 47.92, edging Barr out by five-hundredths of a second.
Barr said afterwards: “It’s the best and worst place to finish! It was so close. It wasn’t like I was fourth by a mile.
“I was fourth by half a metre or less. Every time I saw the replay on the big screen, I was tantalizingly close.
“Obviously, if Javier Culson was in there, it could have been fifth place.
“That’s not saying he would have been up there, but it was one last person to worry about.
“To come from what I’ve come from, barely even making it through to a semi-final at Europeans, to getting here to a final and doing myself justice in said final.
“I’m absolutely elated – delighted. It’s crazy. It’s not going to set in for another couple of days.
“I felt like I got out very hard, got out really well. I kept onto Clement.
“I didn’t get around the top bend as cleanly as I did two days ago. I think it might have cost me 0.1 or 0.2 seconds, which definitely would have been the difference in getting me home in a medal position or not.
“But everybody’s race is different. That’s the thing about the 400 metres hurdles. There’s so much that can go right and so much that can go wrong.
“It’s so hard to get that perfect race. Obviously with that time I ran today, it was as close to the perfect race as I was ever going to get.
“Hopefully I haven’t set myself too hard a target to try and beat that in years to come.”
The Waterford hurdler was the first sprint finalist for Ireland at an Olympic Games since 1932, and was immensely close to Ireland’s first athletics track medal since 2000.
Rob Heffernan found his fourth place in the men’s 50k walk from London 2012 upgraded earlier this year to bronze, a prospect that did come up in conversation after Barr’s final.
The Waterford athlete commented: “I really hope there’s not going to be a typical thing as has happened in a lot of years that someone in the top medals in going to come through in four years’ time as having a controversy with drugs.
“I really hope that doesn’t happen because that would be a real hollow victory.
“I know I’m clean anyway.”
Having come in with a season’s best of 50.09, Barr clocked 48.93 in the first-round heats, shattered his 2015 Irish record of 48.65 from Rome’s Golden Gala with a 48.39 to win his semi-final, and today’s time is magnificent progress still.
Barr’s 47.97 is the second-fastest time to miss out on a medal at an Olympic 400m hurdles, after Kevin Young’s 47.94 at Seoul 1988, and only the third-ever sub-48 run to miss out on the podium.
It was faster than Culson’s bronze-medal-winning time at London 2012, and the time would have won silver at the Athens and Beijing Games, though they were obviously different races with different athletes under different conditions.
As it is, a year after winning the World University Games title, Thomas Barr is now properly on the world map.