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'It was the best and most satisfying year of my life but also the toughest. It was emotional'

Thomas Barr visited The42 to look back on 12 months of exhilarating highs and testing lows in a wide-ranging interview.

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

A YEAR OF two halves, a year exceeding all expectations but also one which tested Thomas Barr both mentally and physically, on and off the track.

From the outside looking in, it was a stellar 12 months.

The 24-year-old produced one of the all-time great Irish performances on the track in Rio as he defied form and fitness to come agonisingly close to an Olympic bronze, finishing fourth in the 400m hurdle final.

It catapulted him into the nation’s conscience and elevated his stature to new, unprecedented, levels as an athlete. He was, during an Olympics which will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, one of the stories of the Games.

But getting to that point and reaching Rio was a struggle.

The Waterford athlete’s year had been plagued by injury to such an extent that he had to completely remodel his running mechanics. Not ideal in an Olympic year, and it was made harder by the fact he had enjoyed a breakthrough 12 months in 2o15.

The debilitating hip injury, which has afflicted him for three years, was the source of great frustration and it was filtering into his everyday life.

Thomas Barr celebrates coming first in his semi-final Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Thomas Barr after finishing fourth Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

At the same time, Barr was dealing with the break-up of a long-term relationship and his Olympic dream was slipping further and further away as his team scratched around for answers.

Before Rio, Barr admitted he felt ‘isolated’ and it must have been so frustrating knowing that he was racing time practically going backwards.

The UL student only returned to competitive racing at the National Championships in June after a three-month lay-off and his performance there and in the European Championships in Amsterdam highlighted the work he still needed to do.

But he was back, and that was the main thing.

From there, he embarked on an eight-week training programme designed to get him back to peak fitness as quickly as possible. Under the guidance of his coach Hayley Harrison and physio Emma Gallivan, Barr had to take shortcuts and risks in the hope it would all come together.

Two months after returning to competitive racing, Barr posted a photo on his Instagram account. He had just run a lifetime best to win his 400m semi-final at the Olympic Stadium. The smile said it all.

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“That reaction when a plan exceeds the point where it just comes together,” he said. “Signing out for now. Onwards to the Olympic Final, Jesus…”

Thomas Barr Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Thomas Barr Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

A day later, Barr hit new heights.

He may have fallen just short of the podium but his time of 47.97 was a new national record – an improvement again on his magnificent semi-final performance.

Fourth place; the best and worst place to finish and while there will always be the ifs and buts, this was a spectacular coming of age for Barr.

In a wide-ranging interview with The42, the Athletics Ireland Athlete of the Year explains how his intoxicating Olympic experience has made him hungrier going forward and that it may take a while longer for him to fully appreciate the magnitude of his achievement.

During his visit to our office, during which Barr watches his Olympic final and relives the moment he was pipped on the line by 0.05 seconds, he also admits that there is part of him that is happy he didn’t finish in third to claim a historic bronze.

Flirting with glory, agonisingly so, has made him return to training infused with a new-found confidence but also a determination to return to such exalted heights and go one step better next time around.

Next time will come at London’s Olympic Stadium next summer when the World Championships rolls into town. Expectations will be naturally raised but Barr is now in a position physically and mentally to challenge the elite and establish himself as one of Ireland’s finest ever track athletes.

What a year. Here’s to 2017 and the Barr being raised again.

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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