Qualification-wise, there seems little doubt that former University of Akron pole vaulter Shawn Barber will compete for Team Canada at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
The 21-year-old from Kingwood, Texas, presumably settled that by winning the IAAF world championship Aug. 25 in Beijing.
But Barber knows he must avoid physical risks in the months leading up to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. That leaves him torn about the annual skiing and snowboarding day he enjoys with friends at Boston Mills/Brandywine ski resort.
“They tell you to be extra careful in an Olympic year, make sure you don’t hurt yourself,” Barber said Tuesday. “They also tell you not to change anything the year of the Olympics. I think I’ll probably still be snowboarding in a couple weeks.”
Winter’s late arrival in Northeast Ohio may settle that dilemma. But as Barber completed final exams this week and put his education on hold, a semester and a practicum away from a degree in exercise science, Barber’s next competition season could be even more spectacular than his last.
Barber is one of three finalists for the Bowerman Award, to be presented Thursday night in San Antonio.
Given since 2009 by the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, it honors the most outstanding male and female collegiate athletes.
Barber won the fan voting announced in August. The other men’s finalists are Oregon distance runner Edward Cheserek and Florida jumper Marquis Dendy.
“It would kind of be the icing on the cake of a tremendous 2015 season and hopefully bring a little bit more recognition to the University of Akron and Akron in general,” Barber said of the possibility of winning the Bowerman.
This summer, Barber gave up his scholarship and turned professional.
The highlight of his career came with his stunning victory in Beijing, where his vault of 5.9 meters made him Canada’s first world champion in the men’s pole vault and earned him the nation’s first gold medal in any event at the world championships since 2003. The victory also earned Barber $60,000, according to the IAAF website, and a likely bonus from his sponsor, Nike.
Barber said he felt he’d accomplished all he could at the collegiate level after winning the NCAA indoor and outdoor titles in 2015 and the indoor in 2014. He became UA’s only three-time national champion.
“I think the competition level is going to be a lot better outside of the NCAA,” Barber said by phone. “I’m going to have a little bit more freedom with which meets I go to.”
He said several six-week tours to Europe prevented him from enrolling at UA next semester. His next meet will be in early January in Texas, but he said he will fly back to compete in the Zips’ fourth annual Pole Vault Convention Jan. 9-10 at Stile Athletics Field House.
Still working with UA track and field coach Dennis Mitchell, Barber hopes the two can travel together some this summer, including to Rio. The Canadian Olympic Trials are July 7-10 in Edmonton, but Barber, who has dual citizenship, said he needs to attend merely to prove his fitness for the Olympics.
Turning 22 on May 27, Barber is proud of what he’s accomplished at his age, but he’s pushing to go higher.
“I’m happy with the 2015 season, but 2016’s another year and jumping [5.90 meters] won’t cut it any more,” he said.
Eventually Barber would like to clear 20 feet (6.1 meters), a mark reached only by world record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France and Sergey Bubka of Ukraine. Barber also strives to become a member of the elite 6-Meter Club.
“I think [20 feet] is the next barrier, or the six-meter mark, which is 19 feet, 8¼ inches, which is about 3 inches higher than I’m at right now,” Barber said. “That’s a big mark. I think both of those are very doable this next year and that’s what I’m going to be aiming for.”