Barr craving that competitive edge once more
By Cathal Dennehy
When an Olympic finalist is struggling for motivation, it’s safe to say there are few corners into which the pendulum of the pandemic has not yet swung.
But Thomas Barr won’t pretend. He’s never been one to dabble in sports psychology or recite the whole self-help shtick. Put simply, there are mornings when he skips down the stairs and relishes the thought of lifting weights in his living room. Then are days when he quite simply couldn’t be arsed.
“Some days I’m 100 per cent, and some days I’m barely even wanting to get out of bed: lazy, unmotivated, lethargic and not in great humour,” he says. “When we have no short-term or middle-term goals and the long-term goals are this time next year, motivation is definitely rock-bottom. But that’s where discipline takes over. Motivation is out the window but it’s that discipline that keeps you going.”
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And so, at the house in Limerick which he shares with several other athletes, the living room has been turned into a gym. There’s a treadmill, a squat rack, barbells, dumbbells – everything he needs to keep on keeping on.
He does sprints on the road outside and hill reps on a nearby green. “I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to be idle, but because we have no real idea of when we can compete again, it’s just maintaining.”
What does he miss? The way training used to double as a social event. “It’s always savage craic,” he says. “But there’s bigger things these days.”
Things have been different since March, ever since the Olympics were wiped off this year’s calendar. The Europeans in Paris – scheduled for August – soon followed and Barr is now left knowing that the only way he will compete this summer will be in a domestic setting, likely without much of an audience.
“It would be very hollow,” he admits. “I don’t know would I like to compete in an empty stadium. I’d definitely be open to it if it was a possibility but I wouldn’t get the same feeling. I’d be just as well to go down the track here and bust out a time trial.”
The Tokyo Olympics are slated to start in July 2021 but last week Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, warned that if the virus isn’t contained by then the Games “will be difficult to pull off” and could be cancelled. Two Japanese infectious disease experts cast further doubt. “It’s going to be tough to hold the Olympics,” said Norio Sugaya, a member of the World Health Organisation’s advisory panel.
There is also the possibility of the Games taking place behind closed doors, something that wouldn’t float Barr’s boat. “If it came to it, that is obviously the best of a bad situation but the crowds are part and parcel of the Olympics. It gives me an adrenaline rush when you walk out and the crowd is going absolutely electric and you can absorb that energy. It’d be really difficult to get excited without that.”
He thinks back to 2016 – how he shot to fame by finishing fourth in the Olympic 400m hurdles final. Veterans of the Irish team had few good things to say about the Rio Games but for Barr, that first time will remain magical. “I was completely blown away by it. It took a long time to come down off that high.”
In these humdrum days of performance purgatory, it’s memories like that which sustain him. “There’s nothing like a major championships where anything can happen to anybody and the whole country gets behind it,” he says. “That’s what I live for.”