Thomas Barr’s European Championship bronze medal represents an ambition made manifest for the Dunmore-born hurdler, bringing great honour to his home village, his club, Ferrybank AC, Waterford and the nation as a whole. The 26-year-old became the first male Irish sprint medallist in these championships when taking bronze in the 400 metres hurdles, joining an elite list of 10 Irish athletes to medal in this meet: Ronnie Delaney, Frank Murphy, Eamonn Coughlan, Sonia O’Sullivan, Mark Carroll, Derval O’Rourke, Robert Heffernan, Mark English and Ciara Mageean.
When it has most mattered, the Olympic Games in Rio and last Thursday in Berlin, Thomas has produced his very best – his Rio run was the only time he ran faster than his effort at the 1936 Olympic Stadium.
But the key difference between Berlin and Rio is that he has something to show for his latest stunning effort – a medal – the currency athletes crave above all other targets.
“This is an unbelievable feeling,” he told reporters in the Olympic Stadium’s mixed zone, which he was in no hurry to leave in the wake of his blistering finish, as his traditional home stretch kick carried him beyond Ludvy Vaillant of France. “I felt so relaxed beforehand and knew it would take something close to my personal best for me to get a medal and so it proved. I’m thrilled. I knew I had that time in me but it just had not come to fruition this year. It did here, though. Earlier in the day, I felt really nervous but as the day went on, I felt so much more relaxed. The Irish support out here just blew me away and it made a difference. I am so grateful to everyone who was here in the stadium.”
The patches of green dotted around the stadium rose to their feet as Barr crossed the line to dance a celebratory jig, evoking the glory days of Irish athletics when the likes of John Treacy, Eamonn Coughlan and Sonia O’Sullivan brought the country to a standstill with their feats.
Barr is a rare commodity: a proven Championship athlete with a telegenic personality and a demeanour which belies the pressure which so many fine runners who’ve worn the green have been unable to bear at the highest level.
He’s a major athlete in every sense and should fitness prove favourable, he’ll surely be targeting final berths in both the World Championships in Doha next autumn and the Tokyo Olympics.
“I always have faith in my (coaches’) programme, whether I’m injured or healthy they get me into the shape I’ve needed,” said Tom, referring to Hayley and Drew Harrison. “I’m just so thankful to all those who have helped make this happen.” With tremendous grounding and support from family, friends, and club mentors, Thomas Barr is a breath of fresh air in a sport which has much work to do in terms of winning the PR battle globally. But it surely has few better ambassadors than one of our own.
Off the track, a bright future surely awaits Thomas Barr. But there’s many challenges on track ahead of him yet – and, one suspects, more medals to be won should fitness and form prove long term allies. But for now, let’s celebrate Thomas’s medal success and take pride in what this Waterford athlete has achieved on the international stage in recent years.