Thomas Barr has breezed through to the semi-finals of the men’s 400m hurdles at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, as new European holder Karsten Warholm staked his claim to successfully defend his world title in Qatar.
Ireland’s European Championships bronze-medallist from Berlin last summer clocked 49.41 seconds at the Khalifa Stadium to take second spot in his first-round heat behind Warholm, and was never really in any trouble.
Running out of lane six, Barr was smooth throughout the race and was never any lower than fourth.
With Warholm was out in front, the Ferrybank AC star was marginally behind the two men on his outside going over the third-last hurdle on the final bend, Mahdi Pirjahan of Iran and Jamaican Kemar Mowatt.
But Barr used his trademark closing blitz to overtake those two, and hold off Jabir Madari Pillyalil of India, who made a strong push over the final 50 metres.
Warholm scored a leisurely victory – by his standards – in 49.27 seconds, well outside his European record of 46.92 set at the Weltklasse in Zurich, the final Diamond League meeting of the season featuring the one-lap hurdles competition.
Just 0.14 seconds off the famed Norwegian, Barr set his joint fourth-fastest time of the season, having hit 49.11 at the Bislett Games in June – starting the outdoor season with an identical 49.41 in Shanghai.
Madari Pillyalil was third in 49.62, with Mowatt fourth in 49.63.
Kyron McMaster’s winning time in the next heat was slower than Barr, with the Commonwealth Games and Central American champion from the British Virgin Islands recording 49.60.
But Abderrahman Samba, representing host nation Qatar, gained a slight psychological advantage in going faster than the lot in his heat, with a decent 49.09.
They all return to semi-finals action tomorrow at 4:05pm Irish time.
Speaking to Athletics Ireland’s social media afterwards, Barr said: “The aim was to get out, relax and stay relaxed down the back straight, try and get out nicely over the 200-300 mark, and just see what I had coming home.
“I was in good contention coming down the home straight so I was actually able to ease off a bit, which was nice.
"They'll be dropping a couple of gears tomorrow. I'm quietly confident."— Athletics Ireland (@irishathletics) September 27, 2019
Mission accomplished for @TomBarr247 who marches on to a world semi-final after finishing 2nd in 49.41 to world champion Karsten Warholm 🇮🇪👌🇮🇪 pic.twitter.com/Y1yCAsfMzy
“I didn’t have to go hell for leather, so there is a bit still left in the tank for tomorrow.”
Commenting on the remarkable conditions facing the athletes all week, Barr commented: “It’s weird because I did most of my warm-up inside on the air-conditioned indoor track, and then came outside (on the warm-up track) to do some hurdles and was instantly covered in sweat.
“It was then back into the air-conditioned call-room and out onto the air-conditioned track.
“The track is nice, it’s a nice fast track and the conditions are perfect - there’s no wind and it’s nice and cool.”
So what would it take for Barr to reach the final?
“It’s going to need a 48-low. It’s going to take one of the fastest times of my life.
“I’ll take a lot from today, and take it into tomorrow.”
Michelle Finn was the first to spring into action of the relatively small Irish selection of eight competing in Doha, finishing ninth in her semi-final of the women’s 3000m steeplechase, in a time of nine minutes 47.44 seconds.
The 29-year-old Corkonian from Leevale AC was within six seconds of her lifetime best of 9:41.23, set in Finland in July, as the 9:30.01 from Genevieve Lalonde of Canada proved to hold the slowest time to progress through to Monday’s final.
Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya won Finn’s heat in 9:18.01, as four PBs were set, including a new Danish record of 9:18.92 from Anna Møller in fourth.
Finn told Athletics Ireland: “I just unfortunately missed the first jump so couldn’t get up to where I wanted to be for the whole race.
“It was a good race to be in. I would have liked to have run better.”
The men’s 5000m saw a sensation as Jakob Ingebrigtsen was disqualified for taking three steps off the track with a lap to go.
Having won both the 1500 and 5000 as a 17-year-old at last year’s European Championships, the talented Norwegian was set to be denied an attempt at the same feat in Doha.
However, an appeal from his federation proved successful in a post-midnight ruling, as it was accepted that Ingebrigtsen was bumped off the track.
"I'm disappointed with that but I'm happy that I tried to get into it and I didn't give up."— Athletics Ireland (@irishathletics) September 27, 2019
After being obstructed at the first barrier, @M_Finners bounces back to finish 9th in her heat in 9:47.44 🇮🇪 pic.twitter.com/XgtMaCNzTG
In the same semi, a noticeably distressed Jonathan Busby of Aruba was helped along for the entire final lap by Guinea-Bissau’s Braima Dabó in a moment that captured the attention and affection of the crowd and TV audiences.
Sadly, Busby was red-carded due to being carried along for the final stretch.
Dabó still set a lifetime best, though denied himself a time potentially two minutes faster due to his selfless act.
The heavily-trailed cooling system inside the stadium had temperatures trackside at a comfortable 24 Celsius, as the mercury outside the venue hit 36 Celsius with a “feels like” temperature of 45 degrees.
The constant Qatari heat means there are no morning sessions in Doha this year, with some evening sessions exceeding six hours.
Tonight’s women’s marathon gets underway at midnight local time after the IAAF world governing body moved to confirm conditions would be just inside the allowable range following fears earlier today that the race would have to be either postponed or moved to an even later time.
That means late-night racing tomorrow night for Brendan Boyce of Finn Valley in the men’s 50k walk, Alex Wright of Leevale in the 20k walk next Friday, and Stephen Scullion of Clonliffe Harriers in the men’s marathon tomorrow week.
Along with Barr and Boyce, European indoor bronze-medallist Mark English opens his 800m campaign tomorrow at 3:35pm Irish time.
Having accepted an eleventh-hour invitation from the IAAF to compete in Doha – that at first did not appear would be offered to him – English marginally has the slowest time this year of the eight in the field tomorrow, which also includes three-in-a-row European champion Adam Kszczot.
Irish timetable for Doha 2019 (Irish times)
Mark English (UCD) 800m heats – 15:15
Thomas Barr 400m hurdles semi-finals – 16:05
Brendan Boyce (Finn Valley) 50km race walk – 21:30
Mark English (UCD) 800m semi-finals – 19:55
Phil Healy (Bandon) 200m heats – 15:05
Michelle Finn 3,000m steeplechase final – 19:50 (eliminated)
Thomas Barr 400m hurdles final – 20:40
Phil Healy 200m semi-finals – 19:35
Mark English 800m final – 20:10
Ciara Mageean (City of Lisburn) 1500m heats – 15:35
Phil Healy 200m final 20:35
Ciara Mageean 1500m semi-finals – 21:00
Alex Wright (Leevale) 20km race walk 21:30
Ciara Mageean 1500m final – 18:55
Stephen Scullion (Clonliffe Harriers) marathon – 21:59