Via Facebook, world champion pole vaulter Shawn Barber has announced he is gay.
“Gay and proud,” the Canadian Olympian wrote Monday morning in a post that was confirmed as legitimate by his agent, Paul Doyle. “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’s announcement was greeted by hundreds of positive comments thanking the Olympian for being true to himself.
“I’m so proud of my little brother! “ David Barber wrote. “To everyone out there be who you are, and don’t let anything stand in your way.”
Reached Tuesday in Calgary, Olympic champion Mark Tewksbury said he hopes Barber will enjoy even greater success after the announcement. Some 10 months before he won gold in the 100-metre backstroke at the 1992 Olympics, Tewksbury told synchronized swimming coach Debbie Muir about his sexuality. Without that conversation, Tewksbury doubts he would have won.
“Shawn has already surpassed my journey in sport, because I never publicly announced that I was gay while I was still competing,” Tewksbury said. “But even having one coach know – having a space to be honest — was really huge. Bravo to Shawn for making that happen for himself.”
Barber was considered a medal favourite heading into the 2016 Summer Olympics, but he finished a disappointing 10th in qualifying and did not advance to the final.
News broke in October that Barber had failed a drug test in July at the Canadian trials in Edmonton and only learned three days prior to his event in Rio that an arbitrator ruled him eligible to compete.
Barber, a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen who calls Toronto home, tested positive in Edmonton for trace amounts of cocaine. He said he accidentally ingested the substance the night before by kissing a woman he met through posting an ad on Craig’s List seeking a “casual encounter.”
The next day, he set a Canadian championship record and won the Canadian title – only to lose it after the positive test was revealed.
“I think at the end of the day, online dating online encounters and stuff, those are the future,” Barber told reporters in October. “People who were around trying to date 15 years ago, they didn’t really have the same luxury. But this is 2016, I think this is kind of the way things are going for us. Everything is becoming online and digitized. So that being said, I’m not going to take that back.
“There is more caution I have to take now, because I realize I put myself at risk by kissing a girl. Unless you’re in a committed relationship or you’ve known that girl for a long time, you don’t know that kissing her could possibly transfer some sort of substance into your body.”