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Canadian record holder, world champion pole vaulter Shawn Barber dead at 29

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Former Canadian world champion pole vaulter Shawn Barber has died. He was 29 years old.

Barber died Wednesday night, his agent Paul Doyle told The Canadian Press.

The specific cause of death was not disclosed, but Barber had been dealing with an ongoing illness.

In an Instagram post from his management page, Doyle described Barber as "a friend that will never be forgotten," before adding, "He will be greatly missed."

"Gone way too soon," said North Macedonia long jumper Andreas Trajkovski on another Instagram post. "So sad. This was a tough one to post."

A number of fans posted their condolences across social media, expressing their sadness and recounting the memories Barber left them with from his college and early pro years.

"Our thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of Shawn Barber, Canadian Pole Vaulter -- 2015 World Champion, Rio 2016 Olympian and Canadian Record Holder," Athletics Canada posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Barber was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but held dual Canadian-American citizenship as his father, George, was born in Kincardine, Ont. The family split time between the U.S. and Canada, specifically Toronto.

Barber won gold the 2015 world championships in Beijing, China, with a mark of 5.90 metres. The victory was Canada's first athletics world title in 12 years at the time, and its first-ever worlds pole vault medal.

That came just a month after claiming the third of his five Canadian titles and Pan American Games gold in Toronto.

He had also won the NCAA outdoor title in 2015 for the University of Akron, adding to the second of back-to-back indoor titles that season.

George Barber, who competed for Canada in pole vault at the 1983 world championships, coached his son until being banned in November 2015 by Athletics Canada after it learned of his 2007 criminal conviction on charges of having sex with a student while he was employed at a U.S. high school.

Shawn Barber went on to set the Canadian men's pole vault record of 6.00 metres in January 2016, but finished 10th at the Rio Olympic Games that year.

His resume also includes bronze and silver medals from the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games, respectively.

Barber tested positive for traces of cocaine in a drug test before the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport had proposed a four-year ban from competition, but Barber wasn't suspended and instead was stripped of his 2016 national title.

"This has been a learning experience for Shawn, he is a young athlete learning how to compete on the field of play, and prepare away from it," Athletics Canada said in a statement at the time.

He was permitted to compete in Brazil after it was determined he inadvertently ingested the banned substance.

According to the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC) report, Barber ingested the cocaine on July 8, the night before he won the Canadian title in Edmonton, in a sexual encounter with a woman.

The woman testified that she consumed cocaine before she met Barber and then again in the bathroom of his hotel room. She said at his hearing that he could not have known she'd used the drug.

The court ruled that Barber, who called the positive test "a complete shock," had unknowingly ingested the drug through kissing.

Barber came out as gay in an April 2017 Facebook post.

He stated: "Gay and proud! Thank you to my parents for being such a great support. I continue to grow as a person and have a great support group. My parents are my greatest support and have helped me through a lot recently. To my friends, you are always my friends and I love you too!"

Barber last competed in 2020.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2024.

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