BEIJING — Shawn Barber was a little boy when he picked up the pole and copied what was his dad was doing, mostly because it looked like fun.
Now 21, having beaten Olympic gold medallist Renaud Lavillenie, Barber is the pole vault world champion.
The Canadian and Pan-American Games champion cleared every attempt from 5.50 metres to 5.90 without missing on Monday, before failing three times at 6 metres.
Defending world champion Raphael Holzdeppe had two misses before clearing 5.90 and finished with silver. Lavillenie, the world-record holder who entered at 5.80 and cleared his first attempt, had to share bronze with two Polish competitors, Pawel Wojciechowski and Piotr Lisek.
"You're going to have nerves coming into a big meet like this but my whole goal was to keep my head down and remember to breathe,'' Barber said. "That's the big thing for me, have some fun out there and enjoy yourself. You only get to do this every once in a while.''
Shawn's father, George Barber, was the Canadian champion and competed in the first world championships in 1983. But he didn't record a mark in a competition won by the great Sergei Bubka.
George Barber has been a long-time coach for his son, who was born after the family moved to New Mexico.
Shawn and his older brother, Braden, got a taste for the sport while hanging around while their father was coaching at New Mexico State University and later, using customized cut-down poles, refined their techniques on the family farm, where an old aircraft hangar became a homemade practice facility.
George Barber was in the crowd at the Bird's Nest, watching his son extend Lavillenie's gold-medal drought to four world championships.
He later recalled the milestones, remembering how Shawn cleared 3.20 metres at the age of 10 and 5.55 metres by the end of his last year in high school, and said he had a feeling when the kid was 4 or 5 that he'd one day become a champion.
While Shawn said he entered the competition merely hoping to get on the podium, Barber Sr. said the outcome in Beijing "went just as planned.''
"Well, he came to play,'' he said. "When you come to play, it's always best to be the last person playing.''
The younger Barber is at the University of Akron now, but travels to train with his father whenever he can.
"Generally, we get together on a fairly regular basis and play,'' said George Barber, adding that he still competes himself and he still has a few tips to pass on to the next generation. "I've made all the mistakes pole vaulting, he benefits from that. Such a technical event takes a lot of time and effort to master.''
Barber's medal is Canada's fourth of the competition and the country's first ever in pole vault.
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