Canadian pole vaulter Shawn Barber says nerves may have played a role in his fourth-place finish at the world indoor track and field championships in Portland, Ore., Thursday night.
Just two months after achieving elite pole vaulting status by clearing six metres, the outdoor world champion was stopped at 5.85 metres in the first event of the championships.
“The nerves were definitely there,” Barber told CBC Sports after the event. “Anytime you get together with this group of guys and you start jumping at these heights, it’s definitely a nervous event.”
The 21-year-old Canadian missed in his first attempt at 5.85m, leaving him with a best clearance of 5.75. Barber missed two attempts at 5.80, passed on his third attempt at that height, opting instead to move up to 5.85, where he missed on his only remaining chance to stay alive in the competition.
“Coming through on those third attempts definitely helped, and it taught me a lot about my jumping style, and gives me a good platform to go on outdoors.” (The Summer Olympics are an outdoor event.)
Thursday was supposed to be a showdown between Barber, who won gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games, and French star Renaud Lavillenie, the top-ranked pole vaulter in the world.
Lavillenie, who cleared six metres earlier this month, did it again Thursday, topping the field of 14 at 6.02. He then set the bar at 6.17 in a bid to surpass his own record, indoor and outdoor, set in 2014 in the Ukraine, but missed all three attempts.
“I’m very happy to finish my indoor season with a good jump,” said Lavillenie, who’s struggled recently with a knee injury. “I will take all the time I need to be in a hundred per cent shape and be ready for the next preparation, because this summer will be a very tough year and interesting season.
“The good thing is I know how to walk, I know how to jump, I know how to win competition. Now we’ll just have to see how it’s going to be this Olympics summer.”
American Sam Kendricks (5.80) and Poland’s Piotr Lisek (5.75) also stood on the podium. Kendricks is the reigning outdoor national champion who won the U.S. indoor title last week.
On Jan. 16 in Nevada, Barber was the youngest to clear the six-metre barrier, a rare feat akin to breaking the four-minute mile in running or hitting 50 home runs in a season.
Thursday’s Olympic final-calibre field also included Brazil’s Thiago Braz, the 2012 world junior champion who defeated Lavillenie at a meet in Berlin last month. He finished 13th at 5.55.
In the women’s competition Thursday, world indoor record holder and reigning Olympic gold medallist Jenn Suhr of the U.S. easily cleared a meet record 4.90 for the gold.
Fellow American Sandi Morris won the silver and Ekaterini Stefanidi of Greece took bronze.
Canadians can follow the competition with CBC Sports’ exclusive live online streaming coverage at CBCSports.ca and via the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices, as well as additional coverage on CBC Sports’ Road to the Olympic Games TV broadcasts.