Pan Am pole vault champion Shawn Barber constantly raising the bar

Shawn Barber became the Pan Am Games pole vault champion when he cleared 5.80 metres — about the equivalent of jumping through a second-storey window.

Then, the Canadian raised the bar — literally — and kept going for three more tries. That’s the nature of pole vault: winning medals is what makes a vaulter’s name, but mastering a new height is what drives the athlete.

Barber took the bar all the way up to 5.93 metres, which would have been a record for him and Canada. But, on Tuesday, at the CIBC Athletics Stadium in his hometown of Toronto, it was just a height too far.

“Maybe next time,” said the 21-year-old, who lives and trains in the U.S. “After you’re done and you can go home happy, at that point, it’s hard to keep the momentum, especially with a really stressful meet like this.”

But he had to try.

“Anything to one-up myself a little bit,” he said, with a smile.

That’s all Barber really can do in Canada.

He’s broken the Canadian pole vault record so many times he doesn’t keep count anymore. In May, he brought it up to 5.91 metres, where it still stands.

Argentina’s German Chiaraviglio won the Pan Am silver medal with a 5.75-metre jump, and Americans Jake Blankenship and Mark Hollis tied for bronze at 5.40 metres.

Barber had a scary moment halfway through the competition when, on his first attempt at 5.40 metres, he dropped his pole at the start of his jump.

The culprit? Sunscreen.

“You know that fair skin of mine,” said the ginger-haired jumper, laughing.

One hand wash and extra chalking later, he cleared the height easily. Not much fazes Barber or puts him off his game.

At the NCAA championships he broke a pole during a jump — a physically dangerous and mentally difficult experience — and he rebounded quickly to win the title.

Part of that is experience. Barber has been jumping with poles, of a sort, since he was 5 years old, when he used cut down crossbars to vault across irrigation canals on the family farm in New Mexico. By 7, he graduated to the pole vault pit inside an old airplane hangar on the farm that his dad, George Barber, a Canadian vaulter in the 1980s, set up.

The other part of Barber’s no-faze attitude is never thinking too far beyond what he’s doing. He’s already touted as a world championship medal hopeful this summer and Olympic medal favourite next year, but he stays grounded, emotionally anyway, by “trying not to get too far ahead of myself.”

“I’m trying to compete with myself and make myself a better pole vaulter,”

he said. “My only goal is to keep pushing it up higher.”


Shawn Barber

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