Pole vaulter Shawn Barber aims to top his meet record, defend title at nationals

Pole vaulter Shawn Barber is in position to break his meet record at this weekend’s Canadian track and field championships, according to his coach, despite mixed results this season on the Diamond League circuit.

Jeff Hartwig says the defending champion has overcome his struggles with consistency from a year ago, noting the 24-year-old Barber has met a variety of challenging conditions entering the senior men’s final on Saturday (CBCSports.ca, 6 p.m. ET) at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility in Ottawa.

“This year has been much better for Shawn due to a higher level of confidence in competition when making adjustments,” Hartwig told CBC Sports this week from Switzerland, where Barber competed Wednesday as the lone Canadian at the Athletissima Diamond League meet. “He has had everything from bad winds to rain and cold, but managed to compete well and in conditions more suitable to good performances.”

The rest of the competition in Lausanne runs Thursday (CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET).

On a warm and still Wednesday evening at the Stade de la Pontaise, Barber cleared 5.60 metres on his second attempt for a seventh-place finish. The 2015 world champion skipped attempting to clear 5.70 and re-entered the competition at 5.77, missing all three tries. Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie cleared 5.91 to win the competition for a fifth time.

Hartwig said the Lausanne event fit perfectly into Barber’s schedule and gave him another chance ahead of the Canadian championships to refine the ongoing process of working out details and performing at a consistent level.

Shawn Barber’s 2018 outdoor results:

  • March 31 -Texas Relays: 1st place, 5.92m (season best)
  • April 12 – Commonwealth Games, 2nd, 5.65
  • April 27 – Drake Relays, 4th, 5.50
  • May 12 – Diamond League Shanghai, 5th, 5.61
  • May 25 – Prefontaine Classic, 6th, 5.41
  • May 31 – Golden Gala (Rome), 7th, 5.52
  • June 3 – Hengelo FBK Games, 2nd, 5.65
  • June 8 – Dessau Anhalt 2018, 1st, 5.70
  • June 10 – Diamond League Stockholm, 5th, 5.66
  • June 13 – Golden Spike meet, 5th, 5.55
  • June 23 – Hof Stabhochsprung meeting, 1st, 5.40
  • June 30 – Diamond League Paris, 5th, 5.84

“There is usually no better substitute for building strength and confidence than competition-level excitement,” Hartwig said.

Barber travelled to Lausanne ahead of the Canadian championships a year ago and improved marginally from the previous week in Paris, clearing 5.63 before winning in Ottawa with a height of 5.40 at a competition delayed by rain and poor conditions. His jump of 5.60 at the 2015 nationals remains the meet record.

Consistency evident in Paris

This year in France, Barber reached 5.84, representing the Toronto native’s best performance since clearing 5.92 at the Texas Relays on March 31.

“Shawn was able to take advantage of a nice day for vaulting,” said Hartwig, a former pole vaulter and a member of the U.S. Olympic teams in 1996 and 2008. “The consistency he has shown in setting himself up to compete at a high level came through in Paris.

“If the conditions are [ideal in Ottawa] Shawn is in a good position to establish a new meet record and perform in the area he was at in Paris.”

Here are some notable non-Canadians competing in Lausanne on Thursday:

Noah Lyles, men’s 200m (3:38 p.m. ET): Two weeks ago, the 20-year-old Lyles became the youngest U.S. men’s 100 champion in 34 years, clocking a personal-best and world-leading 9.88 seconds. With a 19.69 PB in the 200 at the Prefontaine Classic in May, Lyles appears to be a strong contender for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in both disciplines for 2020 in Tokyo. He told reporters recently he feels he could run 19.40 this season.

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In what letsrun.com has dubbed the “race of the year,” Lyles will face Michael Norman, also 20, for the first time since the 2016 Olympic trials where they finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Norman’s personal-best 19.84 into a 0.6 headwind is being viewed by some as superior to Lyles’ 19.69 with a 2.0 tailwind. In March, Norman set the indoor world record in the 400 (44.52) running for the University of Southern California at the NCAA championships.

Caster Semenya, women’s 1,500 (3:28 p.m. ET): At last Saturday’s Paris Diamond League, the South African ran the fourth-fastest women’s 800 ever in a personal-best one minute 54.25 seconds. Semenya set a PB in the 1,500 of 3:59.92 on May 21 at the season-opening Diamond League in Doha, Qatar.

Four others in Thursday’s field of 18 have run under four minutes this season: Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay (3:57.64), Great Britain’s Laura Muir (3:58.53), American Shelby Houlihan (3:59.06) and Morocco’s Rababe Arafi (3:59.51).

Selemon Barega, men’s 5,000 (3:02 p.m. ET): Will Barega duplicate last year’s personal-best time of 12:55.58 in Switzerland and be the first man this season to run under 13 minutes? The Ethiopian has flirted with that time with a season-best 13:04.05 along with two others in Thursday’s 22-man field. Barega, 18, is aiming for a third Diamond League title of 2018 after winning the two-mile event at the Prefontaine Classic on May 25 and two weeks later the 5,000 in Stockholm.

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His fellow countryman, Muktar Edris, won last year’s race at Stade de la Pontaise in a meet record 12:55.23 and later wrested away the world title from now-retired track runner Mo Farah.

Diamond League on CBC Sports

CBC Sports is providing live streaming coverage of all 14 Diamond League meets this season at CBCSports.ca and via the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices. TV coverage will be featured as part of the network’s Road To The Olympic Games weekend broadcasts throughout the season.

The following is a list of upcoming Diamond League meets:

  • Lausanne (Thursday, 2 p.m. ET)
  • Rabat (July 13, 1 p.m. ET)
  • Monaco (July 20, 2 p.m. ET)
  • London (July 21-22, 10 a.m. ET, 9 a.m.)
  • Birmingham (Aug. 18, 3 p.m. ET)
  • Zurich (Aug. 30, 2 p.m. ET)
  • Brussels (Aug. 31, 2 p.m. ET)