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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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Shawn Barber, photo by PhotoRun.net

 

Collegiate Leader Fills Gap In His Glorious Collegiate Resumé

 

Eugene, Oregon

2015 has been a storybook year for University of Akron pole vault phenom Shawn Barber. At a season-opening indoor meet in his home field house, the all-time U.S. high school record holder began the new year with a bang when he soared over the bar at 5.88m [19'3½"] to eclipse the all-time indoor collegiate pole vault best of 5.85 [19'2¼"] set by in 1999 by University of Texas athlete Jacob Davis. Since then the Kingwood, Texas native - who with dual citizenship competes internationally for Canada - has been on a non-stop tear. In January alone, he defeated his former collegiate nemesis Sam Kendricks - last year's outdoor NCAA and USATF national pole vault champion now jumping for Nike - on three separate occasions. Barber subsequently bettered his indoor collegiate vault mark on 2 additional times, placing the mark now at 5.91m [19'¾"] - a clearance that is also a Canadian national record. At the Armory Track Invitational, the red-headed Zip junior cleared 5.80 [19'¼"] - which not only gave him the victory, but also allowed him to supplant world record holder and reigning Olympic gold medalist Renaud Lavillenie as the facility record holder in that venerable forum which has hosted track and field competition for 101 years. Barber went on to successfully defend his NCAA indoor vault title. Barber then headed outdoors and proceeded to out jump Lavillenie at Drake, and successfully defend his pole vault title at Mt. SAC. His outdoor best this year of 5.91m is #2 on the world leader board and #2 on the all-time collegiate outdoor mPV list. Oh, and he also was a finalist for the prestigious Sullivan Award earlier this spring.

As robust as Barber's bountiful collegiate record is, one honor has been missing: the NCAA outdoor pole vault crown. At last year's NCAA championships, the Commonwealth Games bronze medalist - jumping cleanly through the opening heights - was in the lead and on his way to claim that title when Mississippi rival Kendricks' clearance at 5.70m [18'8¼"] proved to be the winning vault when Barber went three and out at that height.

But this year was different. Shaking off an unsettling pole shattering incident during the warm-ups, the seemingly-unflappable Barber was all business. Keeping his powder dry at the lower, opening heights, the collegiate record holder and leader entered the competition at 5.40 [17'8½].

Unexpected drama emerged when the collegiate indoor record holder missed his first two attempts at this entry height. Keeping his cool - a Barber strong point - the Zip junior averted disaster and cleared the bar on his third and final attempt to stay in the competition.

In 9th place as the bar went up to 5.50m [18'½"], the reigning collegiate indoor vault champ had his work cut out for him. Barber cleared 5.50m on his first attempt and now found himself in 6th place as the bar went up to 5.55 [18'2½]. Taking a calculated risk, Barber passed at 5.55 knowing that the daunting new height would thin the field. He was right. When the bar when up to 5.60m [18'4½"] only Barber and Memphis senior Pauls Pujats remained.

Now in second place and in a good rhythm, Barber was poised to finish the job at 5.60m. His confidence fortified, Barber made quick work of this higher bar on his second attempt and clinched the NCAA outdoor title he coveted when Pujats' three heroic attempts failed to produce a clearance.

With the championship secured, but clearly drained from the unexpected emotional roller coaster ride the mPV final served up, the new champion looked flat during three unsuccessful attempts at 5.75m [18'10¼].

In mixed zone, Barber provided a candid insight into his thoughts as faced possible elimination on his third attempt at his opening height. "I was just as nervous as the crowd out there," revealed the new champion. "It is a nerve wracking sport, especially when you get down to those third attempts. So to come back and do so well after that was really a nice feeling." The Canadian national record holder - unaccustomed to battling from behind - knew he had to stay strong as the competition progressed. "I was trying to get back on my feet - to keep pushing through. I broke a pole early in warmups, too. It was just something I had to push through and keep trying to better myself as I went." To come all the way back, Barber knew he had to keep his emotions in check. "I felt a little mental. But I think pushed through it. And I did what I needed to do after that." And with a concluding understatement - a Barber trademark - he added, "And it paid off pretty well."

Barber - the University of Akron's first three-time NCAA champion in any sport - smoothly deflected inquiries about how high he had hoped to jump in the final. "I had some ideas, but I didn't want to set my mind on a certain height," Barber offered. "The main goal today was just coming out and jumping to win. In a big meet like this, that's all you can worry about because it is such nerve-wracking event."

In the afterglow of his stunning 2015 progression, the #2 outdoor vaulter on the world leader board was once again asked about his thoughts on a professional career. "I am just trying to keep all of my options very open right now," answered Barber. "I'm looking toward the future. And we'll see how the rest of the outdoor season goes. But at the moment I am very happy at the University of Akron."

As he has evidenced throughout this magical year, Barber is all about maintaining an even keel. "I just want to try to hit as many meets as I can, try to be in Europe for a little while. I want to keep pushing myself up to that world class level for Beijing," Barber explained. "I'd like to be on the podium in Beijing. That's a great goal for me. I just want to keep progressing through my season. And I know this season isn't over yet for me. This is just a stepping stone."

Shawn, one more question before you go. That broken pole - was it your best one? "That was my good pole. It was one of my best, one of my favorites," he confesses. Allowing himself a rare smile, Barber added, "That's all right. We'll find a way to get it back." No one doubts that he will.

RunBlogRun Some photographs on this site have been reproduced with permission from runblogrun.com.