By now, Thomas Barr knows the drill: fast start, coast down the back straight, clicking off his rehearsed stride pattern, clean and crisp over each barrier, then attack the final bend and empty himself down the home straight.
Sometimes it goes to plan, just as it did at the 2016 Olympics and the 2018 Europeans. Sometimes it goes awry, just as it did at last year’s Tokyo Olympics and at this year’s World Championships, small errors on the final bends compounding into big losses in time and, ultimately, denying him a place in the final.
Barr will settle into his blocks at the Olympic Stadium in Munich at 10.25am Irish time this morning and the 30-year-old knows he needs to get things right to advance to Friday night’s European final. He looks on course to do so. In the heats yesterday morning, Barr produced a slick display from the tricky inner lane to coast to victory in 49.49.
A bronze medallist at the 2018 Europeans in Berlin, Barr gobbled up the stagger on chief rival Ramsey Angela of the Netherlands, which allowed him to slip into cruise control on the final turn. But when Angela attacked him again coming towards the 10th barrier, Barr was forced to dig in and sprint to the line, edging victory by two hundredths of a second.
“It was faster than I thought it’d have to be to get through,” he said. “I had to work a little harder than I’d have liked, but I got the job done.” Barr’s alarm clock had pulled him from his bed before 7am, given the early timing of his opening round, and he admitted it was hard to get a good night’s sleep after watching teammate Israel Olatunde break the Irish 100m record the night before.
“I was wired, absolutely buzzing, to see an Irishman in the final and not only in it, but breaking the Irish record,” he said. “It’s unbelievable and something to be so proud of. Traditionally we may not have been a nation of sprinters but it’s great to see that coming alive. It gave me such a lift coming in today. It’s amazing to see that younger generation coming through and I’m taking inspiration from watching what they’re doing. I had goosebumps watching it.” The 12 top-ranked athletes got a bye to today’s semi-finals and while Barr was happy to get a run into his legs in the heats, the rule is one he doesn’t agree with.
“I don’t think it’s fair some people get through on times they ran weeks ago and they might not be in form, I think having everyone starting on a clean slate, on the same foot, is better than having an advantage,” he said. “I’d rather have the first run-out, but I’d rather everyone did too.” Barr drew lane eight in the semi-final, where France’s Wilfried Happio will start favourite. Barr believes it will take a “mid-48” time to advance to Friday’s final, but he feels capable of that.
“I feel if I can get it right, it’s there, I just need to go out like I did in the first half today but finish the race stronger,” he said. “I know the faster rhythm over the hurdles is there, whereas (at the World Championships in) Oregon I had to force it and that’s when it went to pot. I felt the gears coming back in training and the rhythm coming back – I’m where I need to be.” Meanwhile Kate O’Connor was a late withdrawal from the heptathlon yesterday after sustaining an injury during her warm-up.