Gay world champion pole vaulter Shawn Barber dies at 29

Shawn Barber competing

World champion pole vaulter, Shawn Barber, who came out as gay in 2017, has died at just 29 from medical complications.

Barber died on Wednesday (17 January) from medical complications at his home in Kingswood, Texas, his agent, Paul Doyle told media. 

His agent shared news of Barber’s passing on Instagram a day after the athlete’s death.

Doyle captioned the post: “A friend that will never be forgotten. Canadian Olympic Pole Vaulter Shawn Barber has passed away.”

Barber currently holds the world title after topping the table at the 2015 World Championships in Athletics in Beijing. 

At the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Barber placed tenth “in wet and windy conditions”.

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At 22, Barber came out as gay in a Facebook post, he wrote: ““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.

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“To my friends, you are always my friends and I love you too!”

Three out Olympians represented Canada at the 2016 Games: footballers Melissa Tancredi, Stephanie Labbe and Marie-Eve Nault.

In recent years more Olympians have come out and in 2021 the number of LGBTQ+ athletes had more than doubled since the 2016 Summer games.

Arguably the most famous face on Team GB, diver Tom Daly came out as gay in 2013. His openness has gone on to inspire many others to do the same, including gay footballer Jake Daniels.

Doyle said of Barber: “More than just an incredible athlete, Shawn was such a good-hearted person that always put others ahead of himself. It’s tragic to lose such a good person at such a young age.” 

Shawn Barber of Canada competes in the Men's Pole Vault final on Day 10 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Shawn Barber of Canada competes in the Men’s Pole Vault final on Day 10 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. (Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

A post in memory of Barber by the University of Akron Department of Athletics, where he was student-athlete in the track and field program from 2013 to 2015, stated that Barber had fallen ill and had been experiencing poor health for some time. 

The department described the Olympian as “a well-liked teammate and competitor” with a “distinguished collegiate career.”

Barber, a dual US Canadian citizen, first competed in pole vault at seven years old. He learnt to throw himself over a ditch at a farm where his family using his dad’s old equipment, something he recalled to MileSplit in 2012 as “a lot of fun”. 

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Barber is survived by his mother Ann, father George, a former Canadian vaulter and pole vault coach, and brother David.

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