Defending champion misses the podium
LONDON — On a magical night two years ago in Beijing, Shawn Barber could do nothing wrong. A college kid carrying zero expectations, he soared freely over bar after bar until gold was in his grasp.
His pole vault victory at the 2015 world track and field championships was the country’s first in 12 years, and a punctuation mark on a spectacular eight-medal performance for Canada.
Two years later, Barber will leave London empty-handed, finishing eighth on Tuesday night.
And at the halfway point of the world championships, a Canadian team that has suffered a string of bad luck remains without a medal. “We’ve struggled a bit as a team, had some losses here and there. But I’m confident that our team is going to come back stronger,” Barber said hopefully.
Matt Hughes’ sixth-place Tuesday in the 3,000-metre steeplechase is Canada’s top finish. Brandon McBride was eighth in the men’s 800 metres, while Liz Gleadle was 12th in javelin.
Barber cleared 5.65 metres by a hair on his third attempt. The bar wobbled badly but managed to stay. He missed on all three attempts at 5.75 — what would have been his season’s best — to finish eighth. American Sam Kendricks took the gold with 5.95.
“I think it’s just between the ears for me,” said the 23-year-old from Toronto.
“The weather was good, the atmosphere was good, I just couldn’t line everything up the way I needed to.”
Barber’s Canadian record is 5.93 set in 2015. The last two years have presented some weighty challenges for the six-foot-one redhead, who grew up in the U.S. and starred for the University of Akron. He had a disastrous competition at last summer’s Rio Olympics as he struggled in heavy wind and rain en route to a 10th-place finish.
A couple months later, news broke that he had tested positive for cocaine before the Olympics, but was spared a suspension when an independent arbitrator ruled Barber had accidentally ingested the drug. Barber said it happened while he was kissing a woman.
Barber and McBride bumped into each other in the media interview area. “How’d you do?” McBride asked. “Eighth, you?” “Eighth.” They laughed half-heartedly.
The Canadian team has had zero luck in London, starting when Andre De Grasse tore his hamstring in training. Then Olympic and world champion Derek Drouin dropped out with an Achilles injury. Aaron Brown was disqualified in the 200 metres. And nine athletes and team members have fallen ill with norovirus.
Hughes, a 28-year-old from Oshawa, matched his finish from the 2013 world championships, but his time of 8:21.84 was 10 seconds slower than the Canadian record he ran four years ago in Moscow.
Sage Watson of Medicine Hat, Alta., qualified for the final in the women’s 400-metre hurdles.
Shawn Barber of Toronto finished eighth.