Shawn Barber surprises Swiss commuters, with an indoor pole vault, by Alex Mills


The Weltklasse is a meet that every track fan should attend once in their life.

It is not just the events, but the spirit and culture of Zurich. Three or four days after the World Champs ended half a world away was a challenge this year.

But, the meet management rose to the ocassion.

Here is Alex Mills' piece on the pole vault, and it attracted Swiss commuters to our sport.

Barber_Shawn1-Beijing15.JPGShawn Barber, photo by

It may not have been what most Swiss commuters were expecting to see on their journey home from work, but the majority would have been happily surprised to have run into a world class pole vault competition taking place inside their local train station. Especially, once they realised it included four of the five medallists from last week's world championships.

Sticking to it's tradition of holding at least one field event at the city's centre station the day for the competition's main action, the organisers of Weltklasse Zurich came up trumps as they replaced it's usual supplement of the shot put with a far more crowd interactive event. Though most fans may not have been aware of who Shawn Barber and company were before the competition, some top class vaulting and entertainment later, and they were soon cheering the names Barber, Raphael Holzdeppe et al as if they were best friends.

What started with a world record attempt for a mascot from the famous Cooly the cow, ended with three unsuccessful, yet exciting shots at 6.01m from the new world champion.

Though some of his competitors seemed to struggle slightly, either due to post champs fatigue or an inability to fully adapt to their unique environment, only making 5.67m or less, the world champion, Barber, further reiterated his class as he vaulted to a new indoor personal best of 5.92m, just one centimetre off his outdoor best and national record.

Piotr Lisek and Holzdeppe completed the top three as they finished second and third respectively swapping their places on the podium from Beijing in the process. Both cleared 5.67m though Holzdeppe had one more failure to his name.

Having cruised through the first four rounds of the competition with only one early failure, the Canadian was left to go it alone at 5.92m having seen all of his remaining rivals fail to clear 5.77m. Despite being unsuccessful at his first attempt, he was not to be put off, ensuring it would be second-time lucky as her made it over the bar by the finest of margins. Not that it mattered.

The crowd, in some places 12 rows deep, were cheering for their new hero. As they did so, the announcer was getting way ahead of himself, asking Barber's father George, an ex-vaulter himself, 'how high now?' while George suggested 6.005m, the announcer wanted 6.05m, in the end they settled with 6.01m.

As he came storming down the precariously thin runway, the atmosphere ramped up an extra notch and the clapping got louder, pushing the pole into the box the crowd held their breath for a brief moment, hoping to see something special. Two equally supported tries later, and it wasn't to be, nonetheless, as the evening's star performer, he and the organisers had done their job in inspiring onlookers, passers by and non-athletics fans, even if only briefly.

"We as a whole really enjoy this exhibition type experience, where everybody comes out and jumps in front of a local crowd like this, especially when they make it so unique like this, we love it. It's really a joy to jump at a meet like this. Sometimes as field athlete we get pushed to the side, so just to have a couple thousand people here to watch you, it motivates the athletes to jump well." Barber explained post race.

On competing in such a different environment for the first time, Shawn Barber added: "Just being indoors with the crowd right on you, you don't usually have them so close and with the lights and everything the aesthetics are just a lot different, I really enjoyed it.

"I feel more comfortable [here] it's kind of like that spot light idea where where the pressure is on you and you're jumping right now, you have a feeling that the pressure's on and for me I think I strive under that mentality."

Just like Barber, this was my first experience of such a spectacle, and just like him I also really enjoyed it, although my appreciation of the event was probably enhanced by different factors than the Canadian gold medalist: not least the opportunity to sit in the stand, drink alcohol and place bets, albeit small ones, whilst taking in the action.

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