Despite the country being in lockdown for a lot of 2020, Thomas Barr isn’t one for standing still.
In fact, Waterford native Barr not only has his eye on Tokyo next year but is already looking ahead to Paris in 2024.
The Red Bull athlete and Irish 400M hurdler fell agonisingly short in Rio four years ago, coming within 0.5 seconds of a bronze medal. That only served to motivate Barr even more to chase a podium spot in 2020 but COVID-19 had other ideas, much to his initial frustration.
“Initially it was very frustrating and disappointing alright but, at the same time, to the forefront of my mind was that this is a global pandemic. It’s bigger than the Olympics, bigger than sport, bigger than what I wanted to do this year. What was annoying was that I was in really good shape.
“I came off a year in which I didn’t make the final at World Championships, had a really good winter block, PB’d over the flat indoors in Athlone and then went back into training with even more motivation because I knew I was in good shape.
“So it was frustrating when the rug was pulled out. But I took a lot of comfort in the fact that there was nothing we could do and everyone was in the same boat. It’s not like I was missing out because I was injured or not performing. Basically, we are all in it together so have just had to put the year on pause.”
Life in lockdown
Like athletes all over the world, Barr was forced to adapt his training to life in lockdown. He sought out a straight and deserted road in an industrial estate in his adopted Limerick to do outdoor sessions before transforming his sitting room into a makeshift gym.
“We were just trying to find a place with a straight run of road that we could get 150 metre out of, so we did sessions up and down on that.
Also, our sitting room. I share a house with athletes and non-athletes, and we kicked out all of the furniture and put in a make-shift gym.
“We’re getting more use out of it than the furniture to be honest. Our landlord came down one day and said ‘Jesus, where’s the sitting room gone?’”
Barr is widely known for his infectious positivity having approached every step in Rio in 2016 with a smile. However, even his optimistic mentality was challenged in 2020.
“There were a lot of times when I thought ‘am I going to be able to get into the shape I’m in again? Am I going to be able to maintain it until next year? Am I going to be able to maintain the mental focus when it comes to dragging out the Olympic cycle for another year?’
“I did find it tough when our training group was all split up. Trying to maintain the discipline to train on my own, I found that very difficult. So, it was really nice when we managed to get back training together, even though it is a much smaller group.
“All the disruption has really tested me alright but just like it tested everyone else. I try to see the silver lining in most things.”
Not content with Tokyo 2022, Barr already has one eye on Paris in four years’ time.
He will be 32 by the time that Olympics rolls around but believes the shortened lead up to it may benefit him despite his age.
“Actually, it might work out well for me at 28 because the next Olympic cycle now is going to be just three years. I had been thinking ‘do I want to go for another Olympics in 2024’ but now I think the shorter gap to the next one will benefit me.
“I definitely think I could manage another three-year cycle so I’m trying to take it as a positive.”