Shawn Barber, the Canadian pole vault record holder and 2015 world champion, has died from medical complications. He was 29.
Barber died Wednesday at home in Kingwood, Texas, his agent, Paul Doyle, confirmed to The Associated Press. A cause of death was not yet known. Barber had been experiencing health issues.
“More than just an incredible athlete, Shawn was such a good-hearted person that always put others ahead of himself,” Doyle said Thursday. “It’s tragic to lose such a good person at such a young age.”
Canadian women’s pole vaulter Alysha Newman shared several photos and a lengthy caption in an Instagram post.
“I wish I could say heaven received another angel but if I’m being honest it was way too soon,” she wrote. “Shawn, my teammate, my dear friend and confidant. I’m honored to have been in the same walk of life as you.”
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.
That came just a month after claiming the third of his five Canadian titles and Pan American Games gold in Toronto.
Piotr Lisek, who won bronze at the 2015 worlds, called Barber one of the best pole vaulters in the world in a post on X in Polish and posted pictures of them together on the podium.
He also won the NCAA outdoor title in 2015 for the University of Akron, earning the second of back-to-back indoor titles that season. Barber won one of his five Canadian titles that year as well.
A year later, Barber made the final at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in a pole vault event won by Thiago Braz of Brazil, finishing 10th.
His resumé also includes bronze and silver medals from the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games, respectively.
He’s survived by his mother, Ann; father, George; and brother, David.
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. <a href=”https://t.co/Mn7DcVKgqy”>pic.twitter.com/Mn7DcVKgqy</a>
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.
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.
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.