The evening prior to his Diamond League debut in mid-May, Thomas Barr posted a picture of the men’s 400m hurdles startlist on his Instagram account.
Barr’s personal best of 48.90, set the previous summer, was the slowest of the eight athletes. Neither perturbed nor fazed by the exalted company he’d stand alongside in Doha, Barr signed off the picture with the hashtag #takingontheworld.
The 23-year old would finish third in the Qatar capital and has spent the rest of the summer making good on that hashtag. A national record of 48.65 was recorded the following month in Rome before World University Games gold was struck in Gwangju.
While his Diamond League appearances put the name of Thomas Barr on the map, his gold medal performance in South Korea in early July put Thomas Barr on the radar of the world’s finest hurdlers.
“Ask me five years ago would I ever have seen myself with the Irish flag draped over my shoulders on the finish line of a World Championship event? Never. With the top spot? Even less of a chance than never,” reflected the Waterford native in the aftermath of the race.
“It still hasn’t sunk in yet, but still, only a stepping stone towards the world championships in August.”
The starting pistol on those championships is fired this morning, with Barr stepping onto the Bird’s Nest track in Beijing shortly before noon.
Ranked ninth, he’s targeting a final berth.
All told, his rise from mediocre high jumper on the schools scene to potential world finalist over 400m hurdles has been impressive.
Along with his sisters Jessie and Becky, Thomas dabbled in as many sports as possible at a young age. When it came to track and field, there is hardly a discipline he’s not put his hand to.
Fascinated by Sweden’s Olympic champion Stefan Holm, he favoured the high jump — even if it wasn’t his strongest event. At a schools competition in the mid-2000s, Barr provided a first real glimpse of his potential over the hurdles.
“I was gutted by my sixth place finish in the high jump at the county schools, but I came out to win the 300m hurdles, my first long hurdles race, by a flight of hurdles, so from there I continued up to national level.” By close of 2011, he was a European junior finalist and had moved to second on the all-time Irish list, shaving six-seconds off his personal best in one summer alone.
The high jump had long since been abandoned.
“Going from secondary school to college to study Mechanical Engineering, there was a complete change in my lifestyle and training. The main reason for that progression, though, was down to Hayley and Drew Harrison’s coaching at UL. I came to them as a raw schoolboy athlete, not knowing what a stride pattern even was, and they managed to transform me in a year. Hayley has been like my second mother when I am away from home.”
Still described by his fellow hurdlers as Bambi for his approach to the 10 hurdles when first emerging onto the scene, Barr’s international breakthrough arrived last summer when eclipsing Tom McGuirk’s 18-year old Irish record.
His was the fastest time in Europe in 2014 and although he failed to deal with the expectations of a European medal in Zurich, his championship mettle was proven with that World University Games performance, running as he did his second fastest time to breast the tape.
“So far it has been an amazing season, something I hadn’t really anticipated. To get myself into a Diamond League was one thing, but to compete well, come home with a national record and then get through rounds over in Korea and run a particularly fast time to win, it bodes well for Beijing. I am hoping to maintain that form in Beijing.
“If I can keep going as I am and get the best out of myself, there’s no saying what will happen. The final is where I want to be. Each day is going to be like a final, it could be two or three semis, I’m going to be going hell for leather in each race.”
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