Fine margins, a game of inches, and in the end just a single one of them cost Thomas Barr a place in the Olympic final. A frustrating weekend for the Irish in Tokyo went from bad to worse on Sunday night as the 400m hurdler endured the worst kind of heartache – that of remorse, regret, and a lingering sense of what might have been.
Barr’s hopes of advancing to the final via a potential appeal by Irish team management were also dashed just before midnight in Tokyo, with officials ruling there was insufficient video evidence of two alleged infractions by athletes in another heat – one a lane violation, one an issue with hooking hurdles (swinging a trail leg around the outside of the barrier, beneath its height).
It brought the Games to an all-too-abrupt end for Barr, who had produced the race of his life up until the seventh barrier. But as he shifted his stride pattern Barr got in slightly too close during take-off, his trail leg clattering it, sending him off balance and costing him precious time. He nonetheless dug in, powered home, but his fourth-place finish in 48.26 wasn’t enough, Barr finishing ninth, one place away from the final.
His frustration was compounded by the fact that his time would have been enough to win the final heat, had he had such luck of the draw. But this was a weekend where the luck very much deserted the Irish, from Rory McIlroy’s putt lipping out in his battle for a golf medal, from Aidan Walsh’s foot injury costing him a shot at boxing silver or gold, and from Rhys McClenaghan’s finger catching the handle in the pommel horse final, Ireland’s shot at its first-ever Olympic gymnastics medal evaporating in an instant.
The Olympics are kind to some, cruel to many more. Barr felt their full brunt tonight.
“For it to fall apart like that in a split second is frustrating but that’s the game I’m in, the hurdles, and I was one of the unlucky ones,” he said. “It’s such a shame because that’s the second fastest time I’ve ever run and it’d probably have been 47-something. It was frustrating. It’s going to be a tough one to follow. I came in here as a contender, I’ve been a contender all year and I couldn’t do it on a day where I felt really good.” His time of 48.26 was astonishing given the circumstances, the second fastest of his career, behind only the 49.97 national record he ran to finish fourth in the Olympic final.
“I knew it’d take a PB (to advance). I was getting into the blocks and the last thing I said, ‘we’re getting a PB here, there’s no two ways about it.’ But I killed my momentum by hitting that hurdle, it knocked me quite hard and I think that was the difference in me not beating (Alexis) Copello.” Barr’s heat was led home by the gold-medal favourites Karsten Warholm and Rai Benjamin, who clocked 47.30 and 47.37, with Copello third in 47.88.
“It will be tougher now watching the final, knowing I could have been in it,” he said. “I just hope they run so fast I would have been nowhere near the medals.” Barr was adamant, however, that this was not the end of the road, that he would return next year for both the European Championships and World Championships.
“It’s great to be a part of this event, it’s paving history at the moment,” he said. “It would have been nice to be able to get into the Olympic final. If I had come out of this in worse shape, then I might have said maybe it’s time to wind down. But I know I’m in the best shape of my life, and that could have been a PB. It will give me a little more confidence in the three year cycle now to Paris once the body allows me.”