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Barr now lives with the rare agony of 4th, the best and worst place away from the podium

The niggling questions over winning athletes can add to any mixed feelings.

–Sinéad O’Carroll reports from Rio de Janeiro

IRELAND’S THOMAS BARR left the Olympic Stadium smiling this afternoon in Rio de Janeiro, finishing fourth in the 400m hurdles final and breaking his own Irish national record.

Rio Olympic Games 2016 - Day Thirteen Source: David Davies

“Probably the best and the worst spot outside the medals,” he said, contemplating his position.

He joins a significant list of Irish athletes who know the pain of fourth: Annalise Murphy in London, Eoin Rheinisch at the canoe slalom in 2008 and Sonia O’Sullivan during Barcelona 1992 to name just a recent few.

Tomas Barr after finishing fourth Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Content today with a personal best, national record and becoming a sub-48 second runner (a time that would have won him a bronze in 2012), the Waterford man still has to let the result sink in – a fact that may eventually become more difficult given the cloud of doping scandals which has enveloped this Games.

“I just really hope it’s not going to be a typical – as has happened in a lot of years – that someone in the top medals is going to come through in four years time and turn out there’s been another controversy with drugs,” he told reporters immediately after the race.

I really hope that doesn’t happen, because it’s a really hollow victory.

He didn’t want to be drawn on the negative - flashing smiles at the 20-odd reporters in front of him and hugging his competitor and bronze medallist Yasmani Copello – but conceded that questions will be asked as he was beaten by two men running for countries with poor track records on out-of-competition testing: Kenya and Turkey.

I know I am clean. I know the Irish anti-doping system is one of the best in the world. It is just a pity that it’s really come out in recent years that not every country is like that. It is very disheartening.

“…[Kenya and Turkey] are countries that have had a lot of controversy over them. But look, you can only race at the end of the day what’s on the track. All we can do is… they’re innocent until they’re proven guilty. There’s as much chance of them being clean, as unclean.

“At the end of the day, if something comes through that there is something going on there with them – well and good, I’ll get upgraded but at the same time, I’m happy with my fourth place.”

Gary O'Donovan sets out an Irish flag to support Tomas Barr Gary O'Donovan puts a flag in place at the track. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Barr, himself, has made extraordinary gains during this competition despite a hip injury that kept him off the track for 11 weeks this year.

When he returned in June for the National and European Championships, where his best time was 50.09.

He took a huge chunk of that in the first race at the Olympics, coming in with a season’s best of 48.93 to qualify strongly for the semi-final.

A spectacular run on Tuesday night saw him win that race with a new national record of 48.39, shaving 0.26 seconds off his personal best.

Two races of his life. Today, there was a third. Today, he became a sub-48 man, clocking in at 47.97.

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Could these times be questioned?

Laughing, he tells a story about looking at times on the IAAF website and exclaiming, ‘There’s definitely something wrong going on there’, before realising he was examining his own progression.

“I don’t want to be putting any red flags on myself but that’s the way it is. There is always going to be doubt in people’s minds about over what is going on but I know I’m clean,” he says, when asked the awkward-but-necessary questions.

“Anyone who has been with me all through the years know I’m clean. I’m not hiding anything. I’m just, as Jessie my sister says, I’m just a freak of nature.

Bar suspicion or not, I went out there and did what I did today. And I know myself I’ve done it.

Barr also has evidence from the Irish system on his side. Today’s test was his 13th of the year so far.

Caffeine was the only substance in his body today, with the 24-year-old saying his legs still felt lethargic despite the booster. But a false start from the lane directly to his left didn’t impact his mental preparation – an area he said he didn’t feel tired in.

Tomas Barr on his way to finishing fourth Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“It didn’t knock me off at all. What it did was gave me a little bit of a boost,” he said.

“I don’t want to have [Javier] Culson hear me say this, but in one way it was one less person to worry about. Especially on my inside to come and chase me down like the greyhound to the hare. It didn’t put me off at all. I was ready to go again.”

Although he went on to run a fantastic race, there will be moments that may niggle as that fourth place finish sinks in.

Losing his stride a little ahead of the seventh hurdle. Not quite perfect on hurdle eight either. And stutters into nine and 10.

I was very nervous today coming into it because of the fact that I kept telling myself ‘if I could pull this off, there was a medal for the taking’. That was constantly going through my head. I was constantly relaying past two races in my head to go do the same.

“But, like, what is a perfect race at the end of the day when I come home with a 47 in the bag?” he adds, with a beaming grin.

“Look, it’s been an absolutely amazing experience. I’m going to take a huge amount from this championship. It’s my first Olympics. Coming into it, I didn’t know if I was going to be here, yet alone fit and ready. And I didn’t think I’d be standing here with 20 different people standing in front of me with microphones on for a final in the Olympic Games.

“To be honest, if I had come in here like I had last year – tipped for a medal – and hadn’t  done it, I’d probably be more disappointed. But the fact that I came in here as the underdog and I’ve come out in fourth place. I’m delighted.”

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More from The42′s team in Rio: 

Hotline Rings Ep. 9: Don’t answer the door in your bathrobe, Barr reaches the final hurdle

‘She kept her head. She was going to take that medal home if it killed her’

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