Shawn Barber — the 2015 IAAF world champion, Canadian record-holder, three-time NCAA champion and six-time University of Akron All-American pole vaulter — only took about nine or 10 jumps at the fourth annual Pole Vault Convention on Saturday at UA.
But the former Zips track and field standout who recently turned pro made every one of them count.
Barber won the elite pole vault competition with a vault of 18 feet, 8¼ inches(5.80 meters). Although the height was nowhere close to his indoor personal record, which is 19-5 (5.92), he said he was pleased with his performance this early in the season.
After all, winning was the main goal in the first place, Barber said.
“I wanted to come and put on a show for all my fans and for everybody that made the trek out to watch,” Barber said. “To have competition at the higher bars is also a great thing for me.”
Saturday night’s competition inside Stiles Athletics Field House was the peak in terms of pole vaulters. NCAA national champions, national and world champions and even a few U.S. Olympic team hopefuls showcased their talents and put their elite skills on display at the event, hosted by the University of Akron track and field program.
A star-studded cast of world-renowned track and field athletes participated in the competition as part of the three-day convention festivities. The competition featured an elite field of 22 of the most decorated athletes (12 women’s competitors and 10 men’s competitors) in the four-year history of the convention, led by Barber, who currently holds the No. 2 world ranking in pole vault.
“It’s a small world of pole vaulting, so I see these guys all over the world, and to be able to come and compete with them anywhere we are is great,” Barber said.
Barber said he treated the meet like a training exhibition, just trying to have fun and compete well in front of the Akron faithful.
“I don’t take the meets early in the season terribly seriously,” Barber said. “I just want to come out and have a good time.”
On the women’s side, Katerina Stefanidi, who was a 2012 Olympian for Greece, a five-time USTFCCCA All-American and the 2012 NCAA outdoor pole vault champion, won the competition with a vault of 15-5½ (4.71).
“I was more worried about this being my first meet and getting my step down,” Stefanidi said. “It turned out great, though.”
Stefanidi appreciated the competition, which she said pushed her to succeed. Stephen F. Austin NCAA All-American Demi Payne, currently ranked No. 12 in the world and owner of the current national indoor collegiate pole vault record, pushed Stefanidi the most, finishing second.
“Thank goodness Demi was here because you saw what happened after she was out of the competition,” Stefanidi said. “So I jump better under pressure than when I’m alone. I don’t do so good.”
UA senior Alex McCune and redshirt junior Caroline Haase received the rare opportunity to join the many NCAA champions and Olympians in the field. Saturday night also marked McCune’s return to action after being sidelined with an injury and missing last year’s indoor and outdoor seasons.