Thomas Barr and Mark English come up short in Beijing semi-finals, writes James Sullivan.
Ireland’s Thomas Barr fell agonisingly short of a place in the final of the 400m hurdles at the World Championships in Beijing this evening. The Waterford man finished in fourth place in the first of three semi-finals, clocking 48.71, just 0.06 down on his national record from Rome earlier this summer. However, with only the top two in each semi-final along with the two fastest losers to qualify, the Ferrybank athlete finished just 0.25 seconds off a place in the top eight.
“0.2 of a second faster could have got me in. That’s how close it was,” remarked a slightly disappointed Barr afterwards. “Maybe I just wasn’t ready for a world final yet.”
Faced with lane 9 for the second consecutive day, the 23 year old attacked the first half of the race more aggressively than in his heat yesterday evening, and was ideally placed entering the home straight, but didn’t quite have his trademark finishing speed at his disposal, and was pipped by Timofey Chalyy of Russia for third place in the closing stages. “My coach Hayley told me to go out fast, think like a sprinter, hurdle like a hurdler, and I think that’s maybe why I didn’t have as aggressive a kick at the end.”
“I don’t know if I was a little bit rough over hurdle eight, or if I was stretching for it, but I didn’t get that drive off it, so it took that little bit out of me and I had to drag myself forward again. Maybe it’s a good thing I’m starting to even out the pace of my race a bit more, but I still want to maintain that kick.”
The recently crowned World University Games champion admitted to initially feeling quite aggrieved to have received the dreaded outside lane again, but that it could work out as a positive going forward. “I was in a bad enough place mentally yesterday, when I found out I was in lane 9 again. But there was nothing I could do about it then. Rob Heffernan was saying to me at dinner today that at least I had lane 9 yesterday. If I’d had lane 3 or 4 yesterday and came into lane 9 today I feel I wouldn’t have been prepared at all. But now that I’ve had an outside lane in a major championship, I’m ready for it if it comes again.”
Despite his initial disappointment at missing out on a place in Tuesday’s final, the Irish record holder finished in an impressive 11th place overall, and believes that the championships as a whole was a positive experience, and that he can take a lot from it into next season. “I’ll take a huge amount from these championships. Fourth in a semi final of my first world championships with my second fastest time ever is still pretty good. And going forward, I’ll now be used to sitting in the call room with all these guys.”
Meanwhile, fellow countryman, Mark English, put in a solid display in this evening’s 800m semi final, finishing fifth in the third of three races, recording a time of 1:45.55, in a race won by Amel Tuka of Bosnia. The UCD athlete hung at the back of the field for the first 550m of the race before picking off some of his competitors in front.
“I predicted it would be pretty much like a Diamond League race” commented English in the aftermath. “If you look back at any of these 800m races at semi finals, they are usually run in 51 or 52 for the first lap, so I kind of tried to treat it like a Diamond League race and just run my own splits, and try to keep it as even as possible, and that’s pretty much how it worked out today. I was able to go with plan A.”
“I knew if I ran 1:44 I’d be through and I thought I might have it in me, but it wasn’t quite there today.”
Despite failing to advance to Tuesday evening’s final, the Donegal native finished in a highly credible 10th place overall, and believes that such a high ranking at global level will give him a huge lift going into 2016. “It feels good. I think in our event sometimes we’re judged on whether we make it through each round, and if you fail at the semi finals stage you’re suddenly a failure. But if you came 10th in the marathon it would be a great race so that’s a good ranking, I’m going to take that on and use it as motivation for the winter.”
The European bronze medallist from Zurich last year believes he now feels very much at home at the global level, and is able to deal with the pressures and mind games that come in a big championship scenario.
“There’s a lot of mind games going on. It’s like a game of poker at the start. Everyone’s judging each others’ emotions and expressions, and you’re trying to make the other people feel like you are more at ease about the race than they are. I enjoy that aspect of it. The race definitely starts before you get onto that line.”
While the focus for next year will very much be on the Rio Olympic Games, the 22 year old was the fifth ranked European this evening, and plans to give the European Championships in Amsterdam a go next summer too. “I probably will do the Europeans. I think it’s a good chance for me to medal, and it will be good race preparation too for Rio.”