CLEVELAND, Ohio – The headlines have been ugly this week for U.S. track and field following its disappointing IAAF World Championships in Beijing. Team USA’s 18 medals were its fewest at a world championship, including Olympics, since 2003.
“Is America on the wrong track?” asked the Wall Street Journal.
“Underwhelming,” opined the Chicago Tribune.
But in Northeast Ohio, there is reason to celebrate. It was a banner championship meet. Greater Cleveland and Akron sent six athletes to Beijing, one of them a last-minute replacement, and they won two gold medals, a silver and a bronze.
Take that, Tracktown USA.
It wasn’t just the hardware. Three of the medals were among the top moments at of the World Championships.
Medaling in Beijing were:
- University of Akron junior Shawn Barber won the pole vault.
- Elyria native Tianna Bartoletta won the long jump.
- University Heights native Emily Infeld captured a stunning bronze in the 10,000 meters.
- Euclid native Jessica Beard earned a silver medal for running a prelim of the eventual, second-place 4×400 relay.
Youngest champ in 32 years: Granted, one of those golds belongs in part to Canada, but we’re claiming Barber as one of our own. Barber has dual citizenship and represents Canada at international meets. He does all of his training under the eye of Akron track coach and pole vault guru Dennis Mitchell.
Barber announced Tuesday he is turning pro and signed an endorsement contract with Nike. He will continue to train with Mitchell in Akron.
“The opportunity to continue my professional career training along side Dennis Mitchell and the Akron Zips this year, while completing work on my degree is very exciting for me,” Barber said in a statement released by the school.
Barber was ranked third in the world going into the championships and had been busy and consistent all summer, so his victory was not a surprise. That does not make it any less remarkable because Barber is just 21, the youngest world or Olympic pole vault champion since legendary Sergey Bubka won the world championship at age 20 in 1983.
The average age of a pole vault champion since then is 26. Westlake native Tim Mack was 31 when he won the 2004 Olympics.
Barber cleared the winning height, 5.90 meters (19 feet, 4 1/4 inches), in his first attempt. Defending champion Raphael Holzdeppe of Germany finished second, clearing the height in his third attempt. Both failed to clear six meters.
Ten years later: Bartoletta, whose maiden name is Madison, had one of the more remarkable achievements of the world championships. She won her second long jump title 10 years after winning her first, at age 19, at the Helsinki World Championships.
The Elyria High grad had many ups and downs in between. Among the highlights was her leg on the world-record setting, Olympic-champion 4×100 relay at the 2012 Olympics.
She returned to the long jump full-time last year and was ranked No. 1 this season heading into Beijing.
Now 29, Bartoletta’s victory was ripe with drama. She fouled on her first attempt and sat third until her final jump, when unleashed a world-leading and personal best 23-5 ¼ to win by 2¾ inches over Shara Proctor of Britain.
Infeld won bronze and hearts: She produced perhaps the video highlight of the meet for Team USA. While U.S. champion Molly Huddle slowed near the finish and raised her arms to celebrate finishing third, the sprinting Infeld chased her down and leaned past to steal away the bronze medal, only the second medal the U.S. has ever won in the women’s 10,000.
Infeld, 25, a Beaumont High School graduate, earned even more admirers for her humility in the post-race celebration and comments. She practically apologized to Huddle for beating her, saying she felt “a little guilty.”
Beard’s fourth medal: Beard, 26, earned her fourth world championship medal to go with two golds and another silver, all in the 4×400. She did not run in the final, as she did in 2011, but prelim runners also receive medals.
The Euclid High grad ran a 50.51 split in the prelim. She and teammate Phyllis Francis were replaced by 400-meter champion Allyson Felix and Natasha Hastings in the final.