Canada’s Shawn Barber survives early scares to advance to pole vault final

RIO DE JANEIRO—Getting through the qualifying round in pole vault should be fairly routine for a world champion but Canada’s Shawn Barber gave himself a scare when he missed the first two attempts on his opening height at the Rio Olympics.

That meant that everything he’d worked years for came down to a single jump at 5.45 metres.

“It was a very overwhelming feeling,” he said afterward. “I knew everything was up to that jump, whether I even had a chance of going on, that’s the biggest, craziest feeling in the whole world.”

On his first attempt, he hit the bar with his chest coming down. On his second he hit it with his legs. Then, on his third and final chance for a shot at Monday’s final he sailed over the bar with plenty of room to spare.

“After a couple bumps and bruises, we’re still in the final,” he said. “I’ve just got to take what we learned from this competition, this venue, this crowd and try to make the best of it and jump higher on Monday.”

Ultimately, Barber qualified seventh in the final field of 12 with a jump of 5.70.

France’s Renaud Lavillenie, the world record holder who is looking to become the first man to successfully defend an Olympic title in 60 years, didn’t open until 5.70 and only jumped twice to qualify fourth.

But pole vault, at its core, isn’t an event where athletes compete against each other so much as they try to master the event itself.

“My only goal is to keep pushing (the bar) up higher,” Barber has said about what drives him.

How high can he push the bar is a question that the 22-year-old, who calls Toronto home, has been looking to answer since he was five years old.

He started jumping on homemade poles because manufacturers simply don’t make them that small. Barber, drawn to the sport by his father George, a Canadian pole vaulter in the 1980s, used cut-down crossbars to vault across irrigation canals on the family farm where he grew up in New Mexico.

At the 2012 Olympics — when Lavillenie was winning his first Olympic title — Barber was still celebrating his bronze medal from the world junior championships.

He hasn’t stopped raising the bar since.

He won back to back NCAA titles for the University of Akron in Ohio, he won the gold medal at the 2015 world championships, and he raised the Canadian outdoor record to 5.93 metres and hit the magic six-metre mark in indoor competition.




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