Irish 400m hurdler Thomas Barr at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 (Getty Images) © Copyright

My greatest challenge – Thomas Barr

Ireland’s Thomas Barr, who finished fourth in the 400m hurdles at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, talks about some of the major tests he faced last summer.

One barrier after another

I had enjoyed a very good 2015. I’d made my mark on the world stage by reaching the semi-finals of the World Championships and winning the World University Games title. I was convinced this upward spiral would continue leading into the Olympic Games.

Unfortunately, besides the pressure and stress of finishing my master’s degree, I also had the pain of a break up with a long-term girlfriend and I suffered an injury which kept me out for 11-12 weeks from March to May.

In my worst moment, in the early hours of one morning with tears in my eyes, I wondered if my injury would ever come right. I thought my dream of competing at the Rio Olympics was slipping away.

Yet in my hour of need, the people around me convinced me that my fortunes would turn around. I listened to their advice, I let down my guard and stopped being so tight and stressed. I was so glad I listened.

For the past three or four seasons, I’ve suffered an aggravating injury to my left hip. The problem would usually settle down after a week or two, but this time it dragged on for longer. It was diagnosed as a labral tear of the hip. It was a long period of time to be out, particularly so close to the Olympics, but thanks to the work of my physio and assistant coach, they helped me through this tough period.

Besides the exam work, I also had the stress of a long break up, which coincided with the injuries I suffered. On reflection, I wonder whether the stress and emotion I was feeling impacted on my physical stress, which made it difficult for my body to let go for the injury.

Turning point

I returned to training with eight weeks to go before the Olympics, not sure of my state of fitness. I competed at the European Championships, but failed to make it beyond the semi-finals, running 50.09. Then during a two-week training period in Uberlandia in Brazil before Rio, I saw signs of improvement. I was just relieved to be able to jump on the plane and take to the start line. During my final week’s training ahead of the Games in Rio, my training really started to click and I went into the Games filled with optimism.  

(In Rio, Barr set two set national records, running 48.39 in the semifinals and 47.97 in the final to finish fourth.)

What the challenge taught me is no matter how bad things get, it is possible to come out of the other end. I have also learned that to produce my best, I need to be in a relaxed state of mind. I was proud with what I achieved after such a tough year.

Steve Landells for the IAAF