The prize ahead is one he’s yet to get his hands on, an achievement Thomas Barr would dearly love to secure here in the desert city of Doha, Qatar: a world final.
Between him and that today there is one lap of the track, 10 hurdles and seven rivals. If he can finish in the top two in the 400m hurdles semi-final – or be one of the two fastest losers – then his CV will bulge even more with the brilliance of a consistently world-class operator.
He’s in little doubt about the level of performance he will require today.
“Tomorrow will sort the men from the boys,” he said last night. “I’m going to have to run it like a final.”
His opener was quite the opposite, a controlled, conservative effort from the European bronze medallist. Barr ran a strong opening 200m and as he turned for home, world champion Karsten Warholm had seized command of the race from three lanes inside.
Barr needed to secure a top-four finish to advance and he felt pressure from either side approaching the last barrier, with India’s Jabir Madari Pillyalil and Jamaica’s Kemar Mowatt surging up to his shoulder, but it was then that the 27-year-old Irishman kicked it into gear and in the end, he coasted across the line in second place, clocking 49.41 to Warholm’s 49.27.
“I felt good, nice and relaxed,” he said. “I was in good contention down the home straight so I was actually able to ease off a bit. I didn’t have to go hell for leather so it’s nice to know I have a lot there for tomorrow.”
It marks the third straight time Barr has qualified for the world semi-final and he has high hopes of becoming a world finalist for the first time ever today. Four years years ago in Beijing he was edged out after finishing fourth in his semi-final and two years ago in London, Barr contracted gastroenteritis after his heat and was unable to line up the following day.
Of course, at his best, there is no doubt his calibre belongs among the ultra-elite, as displayed at the Rio Olympics in 2016 where Barr finished fourth in the 400m hurdles final in 47.97, which still stands as the Irish record.
Today he knows something substantially swifter than last night’s showing will be needed if he is to become the first Irishman ever to make a world 400m hurdles final.
“Tomororow will sort the men from the boys. I’m going to have to run it like a final to get into the final,” he said. “Everyone was on cruise control today but they’re going to be dropping a couple of gears tomorrow. I’m quietly confident.
“It’s going to take a 48-low, at least sub-48.5, one of the fastest times of my life. But I’ve to take a lot from today. I felt really good, really relaxed and I always build off race after race.”
With temperatures charging towards the 40s and humidity also through the roof, Barr sought refuge from the heat by warming up in the air-conditioned arena at the nearby Aspire Academy, only venturing to the outdoor track to do some hurdles. “I was instantly covered in sweat,” he said.
No such issues inside the air-conditioned competition venue, however, which was maintained at a temperature in the low-20s through last night’s session.
“The track is nice, it’s fast and the conditions are perfect,” he said. “There’s no wind, it’s nice and cool, like a balmy Irish evening in Morton (Stadium) really.”
Barr’s assignment today is a highly difficult one, drawn outside two of the medal favourites in USA’s Rai Benjamin and Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba, but even if he fails to grab a top-two finish there is a strong chance he will nail one of the two time qualifiers for Monday’s final.
Michelle Finn was the sole other Irish competitor on day one, the 29-year-old finishing ninth in her 3000m steeplechase heat in 9:47.44. Finn was obstructed by another athlete at the first barrier and came to a complete stop, which cost the Leevale athlete a few seconds, and after the race Irish team management lodged an appeal to have her re-instated in the final, which was unsuccessful.
“You don’t get an asterisk next to your name because something happened, your result is your result so I was trying to tell myself to catch back up without using too much energy,” said Finn. “I’m disappointed but I’m happy that I tried to get into it and I didn’t give up.”
Mark English will open his campaign in the heats of the men’s 800m today, while later tonight Brendan Boyce will brave the elements for the 50km race walk, a race that will prove especially sadistic given the current heat and humidity.
Irish in action (all times Irish): Mark English, men’s 800m heats: 3:36pm Thomas Barr, men’s 400m hurdles semi-finals: 4:25pm Brendan Boyce, men’s 50km race walk: 9:30pm