Thomas Barr wins his 400m hurdles heat in Rome

The Waterford man advanced to the semi-finals of the European Athletics Championships

Thomas Barr
Thomas Barr of Ireland after winning his heat in the men's 400m hurdles on day three of the 2024 European Athletics Championships at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile (Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

IT was another busy morning for the Irish team on Sunday at the European Athletics Championships in Rome with the appearance of Thomas Barr being the highlight.

One of the heroes of Ireland’s gold medal mixed relay team was back to work at his own specialist event. The tried and tested performer on the big occasion copper-fastened that reputation with an impressive win in the first heat of the 400m hurdles.

Only fourth going into the last hurdle, the 31-year-old Waterford man produced his trademark fast finish to cross the line first in a season’s best of 49.31 seconds. Barr will now advance to the semi-finals of the event to be held on Monday morning.

Kelly McGrory got a late call-up for the women’s 400m hurdles after a mix-up by one of the nations opened up a late space in the event. The Donegal athlete was not expected to progress beyond the opening round and so it proved but will more than happy to have recorded a personal best clocking of 57.10 seconds in seventh place. Nobody could have asked more of the Tír Chonaill club woman.

Nicola Tuthill exceeded all expectations making it through to the hammer final after finishing runner-up in the second qualification pool. The 20-year-old from Bandon threw a national U23 record of 69.85m in the third round to take a significant step forward in her career and will be ranked seventh of the 12 finalists in Tuesday night’s medal decider.

Mark Smyth also made his way through the preliminary round of the 200m, finishing fourth in his heat with a season’s best of 20.93 seconds. The Raheny Shamrock will now join the heavy-hitters, who were given a bye through the preliminaries, in the semi-finals on Sunday night.

Both half marathon races had started the Sunday morning programme with all three Irish representatives well down the field. Hiko Tonosa was 43rd in the men’s race in 65:42 as Yermaneberhan Crippa added another gold to Italy’s burgeoning medal count in a championship record time of 61:03.

European cross country champion Karoline Grovdal from Norway was the winner of the women’s race in 68:09. Shona Heaslip was the first of the two Irish, taking 34th place in a season’s best 72:19. England-based Emily Haggard-Kearney, who runs locally in the colours of North Belfast Harriers and is the current NI & Ulster Senior Cross Country champion, was further down the field in 64th, also recording a seasonal best of 77:04.

Saturday night provided an incredible feast of athletics finals. “This is what it is all about - a great stadium and a great crowd,” said Jakob Ingebrigtsen after winning the 5000m.

On a magical night in the Stadio Olimpico, Croatia’s Sandra Elkasevic won a record seventh women’s discus gold and there were four championship records from Greece’s Miltiadis Tentoglou (men’s long jump), France’s Cyrena Samba-Mayela (100m hurdles), Leonardo Fabbri (men’s shot) and Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam (women’s heptathlon).

And the host nation had plenty to celebrate with three more Italian victories for Fabbri, Marcell Jacobs (men’s 100m) and Lorenzo Ndele Simonelli (110m hurdles). That followed Antonella Palmisano (women’s 20k walk) and Nadia Battocletti (women’s 5000m) winning gold on day one.

Sarah Lavin missed out on a medal in the women’s 100m hurdles final. The Limerick athlete had won her semi-final heat in a season’s best 12.73 but was unable to raise her game for the final as she finished in 12.94. Even a repeat of her semi time would not have gained her a podium place as France’s Cyrena Samba-Mayela won gold in a championship record time of 12.31.

“The start was really good, it was the same as the semi-final, it was really, really quick. It was the same again there,” said the Emerald AC athlete. “And then I hit (the hurdle) with my lead and my trail (leg) I think but badly and I lost everything and I had to start again from scratch because obviously your whole acceleration is gone. I bottled it”

Israel Olatunde was unable to progress into the men’s 100m final after finishing sixth in his semi-final. He may have been unsettled with two false starts causing a delay and necessitating the first semi-final being only run off after the other two took place.

When it did go ahead, Olatunde never looked with advancing finishing sixth in a time of 10.40 seconds and has struggled to find the form that saw him set a national record at the distance last year.

Brian Fay was in action in the men’s 5000m final won by Ingebrigtsen but never threatened before finishing 14th in 13:29.48, almost half a minute outside his national record.

The evening had started with the men’s 20km walk event. Mullingar Harrier Oisin Lane was almost two minutes slower than his best set in Spain last month with a 1:23:14 timing in 23rd place. There were other Irish connections in the race, with winner Perseus Karlstrom being coached by Cork man Robert Heffernan, while Spain’s runner-up Paul McGrath reputedly has a Dublin father, hence the very un-Spanish surname

In the morning, Chris O’Donnell had the unenviable prospect of a preliminary round heat of the 400m just 14 hours after playing his part in Ireland’s historic mixed relay gold medal the previous night. But showing the stern stuff he is made of, the Sligo man, powered to a fourth place in 45.69, his fastest time of the season to date and enough to see him line up in Sunday night’s semi-finals.