LONDON — On a magical night two years ago in Beijing, Shawn Barber could do nothing wrong. A college kid carrying zero expectations, he soared freely over bar after bar until gold was in his grasp.
His pole vault victory at the 2015 world track and field championships was the country’s first in 12 years, and a punctuation mark on a spectacular eight-medal performance for Canada.
Two years later, Barber will leave London empty-handed, finishing eighth on Tuesday night.
And at the halfway point of the world championships, a Canadian team that has suffered a string of bad luck remains without a medal.
"We’ve struggled a bit as a team, had some losses here and there. But I’m confident that our team is going to come back stronger," Barber said hopefully.
Matt Hughes’ sixth-place Tuesday in the 3,000-metre steeplechase is Canada’s top finish. Brandon McBride was eighth in the men’s 800 metres, while Liz Gleadle was 12th in javelin.
Barber cleared 5.65 metres by a hair on his third attempt. The bar wobbled badly but managed to stay. He missed on all three attempts at 5.75 — what would have been his season’s best — to finish eighth. American Sam Kendricks took the gold with 5.95.
"I think it’s just between the ears for me," said the 23-year-old from Toronto. "The weather was good, the atmosphere was good, I just couldn’t line everything up the way I needed to."
Barber’s Canadian record is 5.93 set in 2015. The last two years have presented some weighty challenges for the six-foot-one redhead, who grew up in the U.S. and starred for the University of Akron. He had a disastrous competition at last summer’s Rio Olympics as he struggled in heavy wind and rain en route to a 10th-place finish.
A couple months later, news broke that he had tested positive for cocaine before the Olympics, but was spared a suspension when an independent arbitrator ruled Barber had accidentally ingested the drug. Barber said it happened while he was kissing a woman.
Barber and McBride bumped into each other in the media interview area under the stadium. "How’d you do?" McBride asked. "Eighth, you?" "Eighth." They laughed half-heartedly.
The Canadian team has had zero luck in London, starting when Andre De Grasse tore his hamstring in training. Then Olympic and world champion Derek Drouin dropped out with an Achilles injury. Aaron Brown was disqualified in the 200 metres. And nine athletes and team members have fallen ill with norovirus.
It all made McBride feel worse about his race.
"What hurts me the most is not being able to get my team on my board," McBride said. "I wanted it for the team more than anything."
The 23-year-old from Windsor, Ont., likes to run at the front because, at six foot three, he has a particularly long stride and running in front of the pack keeps him out of trouble. He led for 600 thrilling metres at London Stadium on Tuesday, but faded badly over the final 200 to cross eighth in one minute 47.09, well off his personal best of 1:43.95.
Running in his first major international final, McBride said the three rounds took their toll, both physically and emotionally.
"Just the emotional effect of achieving my goal of making it through. Making it to the final. That was an extremely high moment for me emotionally and I honesty didn’t realize how much that took out of me until I was warming up today, it was very tough to bring myself up to be ready to compete," he said. "But ultimately I think this is going to make me a better athlete."
Hughes, a 28-year-old from Oshawa, Ont., matched his finish from the 2013 world championships, but his time of 8:21.84 was 10 seconds slower than the Canadian record he ran four years ago in Moscow.
"I thought on a pretty good day I could be fourth and I was right there with a lap to go, so maybe if I didn’t take two months off with an injury I would have been there, but hey… I’ll just take that as motivation moving forward," Hughes said.
Hughes’ season was derailed by a knee injury that he suffered when he ran into a fire hydrant while on a training run in Portland, Ore. So the world final was just his third steeplecase race of the season.
Sage Watson of Medicine Hat, Alta., qualified for the final in the women’s 400-metre hurdles. Toronto’s Brittany Crew qualified for the women’s shot put final, and Toronto’s Crystal Emmanuel qualified for the semifinals in the women’s 200 metres.