“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 (UL) yesterday.
None of his 24 fellow class graduates could argue that the accolade “master in sports performance” rested best on the Waterford native’s shoulders.
He received a standing ovation with 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, because I was so out of my comfort zone. It was amazing.”
His performance in Brazil, in which he became the first Irish man to run an Olympic 400m hurdle final in more than 80 years, has “still has not sunk in”, added Barr, 24, 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 said he owed everything to UL, where he met his coaches. He also paid tribute to his parents, who convinced him to continue running when he had all but given up on athletics.
“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.”
Barr, 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.”
He now has his sights 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,” he said. “I’ll be based in UL for the next few years. I’ve a good set up here.”
“He is one of our greatest Olympians,” UL president Don Barry noted.
Barr’s family, including parents Tommy and Martina and sister Jessie, also a former track Olympian and UL graduate, 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,” said Tommy.
“He’s got a smart head, and he blew us away in Rio. Today has been a really proud day for us,” added Martina.
The last word was left to Thomas’s grandmother Breda French, 78, who gushed up at her inspirational grandson, and simply said: “I love him to bits.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved