DERVAL O'ROURKE: Is there a third Irish medal on the way?

Fortune favours the brave and Thomas Barr has bravery in bucketloads, writes Derval O’Rourke.

Many, many times throughout my sporting career I uttered the words “You couldn’t make this up”. Here I am again saying those same words.

The Olympics has been astonishing for good and bad reasons; it’s kept me on the edge of my seat. Our most recent medal was from Annalise Murphy. There are not enough words to describe how amazing and inspiring I felt the sailor’s performance has been in Rio.

My husband, Peter O’Leary, sailed at the last two Olympic Games. I saw first hand what goes into an Olympic sailing campaign. It is a long, hard slog and not for the faint-hearted.

The Irish sailing community is a closeknit one, they understand the effort of an Olympic campaign, and are super supportive of each other. I had the pleasure of seeing Annalise a few weeks before Rio and I was blown away by her preparations. I remember thinking no matter what happened in Rio she could come off the water immensely proud of her four year campaign to the Olympics.

Being mentally prepared for an Olympic Games is important and Annalise nailed this. She was advised by sports psychologist Dr Kate Kirby and the work they did to take her from a devastating fourth place finish to a silver medal was spot on. It’s a journey that has not been easy and both ladies should be commended on their work in the past four years. There are lessons from their approach for anyone looking to bounce back from disappointment and achieve their goals.

After Annalise’s heroics on the water I settled into the RTÉ studio to watch Thomas Barr compete in the men’s 400m hurdles semi-final. It’s no secret that I think Irish athletes can compete at a world level and make finals across many events. I have a particular soft spot for hurdles, for obvious reasons.

At the same time I don’t underestimate just how hard it is to do this. Being capable of and actually getting the performances are two very different things. Thomas has been injured this season and came into the Olympics as an unknown quantity. Yet he has turned this around and is looking like an Olympic medallist.

His performance to win his semi-final and advance as a medal favourite to the Olympic final is one of the greatest ever Irish track performances. The more impressive part is that he is far from done. I believe Thomas is good enough to win a medal in the final.

The final is wide open. Thomas will line up in lane 4 as the third fastest on times this season. His fastest time and Irish record was achieved at this championships — this means he has form. In the lane directly outside him is the American Kerron Clement, to my mind the favourite for the title. The lane draw gives Thomas an excellent way to track his progress.

Outside of Clement there will be danger from Javier Culson who is in the lane inside Thomas. The Puerto Rican star has an Olympic bronze medal to his name and multiple world championship medals. He is a good championship racer but he is slower than Thomas this year.

Annsert Whyte from Jamaica goes in lane 6. He has had a great championships so far, running lifetime bests in the first two races. He could be a danger if he can run another lifetime best in the final. The Turkish athlete Yasmani Copello has pedigree and will run in the inside of Thomas in lane two.

Right on the outside of this final in lanes 7 and 8 are the Kenyan duo of Boniface Tumuti and Haron Koech. They will be looking to make an impact but I feel that, in top form, Thomas has the beating of both these athletes.

There is little in terms of ability between the eight hurdlers. I feel, in a major championship final, there are athletes that will up their game and others who will struggle with the enormity of it. What I’m hoping for is another massive performance from Thomas.

The final will take place at 4pm Irish time. Thomas has within his grasp the opportunity to achieve what very few Irish athletes do and that is to medal at an Olympic Games. It’s rarefied air and he is more than capable of breathing it.

The Olympics has brought its fair share of astonishingly bad stories for Irish sport. I fell into bed Tuesday night after a very late athletics session and I certainly didn’t expect to wake up to the news that Pat Hickey had been arrested in his dressing gown. This story is ongoing so we will all have to watch this space.

I’ve felt very sorry for the Irish boxers out in Rio. They are going through a turbulent time and there seems to be a lack of leadership.

An athlete’s job is to perform and they shouldn’t need to deal with stress outside of their performance stress but unfortunately this hasn’t been the case. A storm has been swirling from the moment Michael O’Reilly tested positive to the losses and accusations of corruption within amateur boxing.

Athletes deserve the gatekeepers of their sport to go about their business with integrity and honesty. As an Olympic athlete you put your life into achieving on the world stage and the least you deserve is a fair crack at it. It would be naive to think that it will always be fair but those who are charged with governing sport should be doing everything in their power to make it as fair as possible.

I hope I will be saying “You couldn’t make this up” tomorrow evening about an Irish athlete who has taken on the world and won an Olympic hurdles track medal. Fortune favours the brave and Thomas Barr has bravery in bucketloads.

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