Reigning world champion explains the motivating factors behind his success
Winning Pan Am gold in pole vault on home soil was one thing for emerging Canadian Shawn Barber. Capturing Canada’s first gold medal at the world championships in more than a decade and first ever in pole vault was 15 years of hard work paying off.
“It’s been an incredible experience and I’m really grateful to be where I am. I’m really looking forward to Rio,” Barber said.
Barber, who grew up in New Mexico but calls Toronto his hometown, spoke to CBC Sports about the role his parents have played in his athletic career, winning Pan Am gold and how he will measure success at the Olympic Games in August.
CBC Sports: How were you introduced to pole vaulting?
Barber: I started on a farm in New Mexico and … it was just a way to pass the time. My father was a pole vaulter when he was young and he continues to vault even today some. He built a barn of sorts and we put a pole vault pit inside … a trampoline, high bars, rings and ropes. Looking back, it was probably the thing that made me such a great athlete today … the exposure to gymnastics at such a young age and the ability to go out every day and have all that equipment in my backyard.
CBC Sports: Your dad, George Barber, competed for Canada as a youngster and still coaches you. What makes him a good motivator?
Barber: If he says we need five more reps, need five more jumps or need to work on this a little bit more, I know that what I’m doing is right and I know it is going to turn out well. One thing that my father brought to me as a coach is the time he spent with me. That’s something no other coach could have gave me.
CBC Sports: What role did your mom, Ann, play in your development as an athlete and eventual success?
Barber: I think my mom was the main reason that I got into sports. She was the one that motivated me to go out and try athletics, try soccer. My mom knew that athletics is such a wonderful thing. She really wanted to make sure she pushed me into some different fields and let me explore my athletics.
CBC Sports: Your parents divorced and your father went to jail in 2007 for having sex with a high school student while he was a physical education teacher and track coach. How did you cope during those tough years?
Barber: I’m still coping. It’s a difficult process to have trouble and turmoil in your life and nobody gets to choose the cards they’re given. … I’ve enjoyed the life that I’ve been handed because I know that if I was given a different life, I know the outcome would be different now and I’d be in a different place.
I was 10-years-old at the time [of his arrest in August 2005] and I couldn’t have done anything to change it. … It’s tough, it’s difficult at times [but] you can’t take the fall for your father’s shortcomings. It’s just one more bit of adversity, one more thing I have to overcome going into Rio.
CBC Sports: You won a gold medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. How would you describe that experience?
Barber: The Pan Am Games were kind of the greatest eye-opener for me and athletics in Canada. It was kind of the one moment where I felt a great sense of pride. To compete at home and have all these world-class athletes come to your city and come to your home country and compete, it warms your heart.
CBC Sports: How should you measure success in Rio?
Barber: I would measure success in Rio by being on the podium. That’s my goal. … If I can come away with a medal, I would be the happiest kid in the world.