Olympian Shawn Barber tested positive for cocaine before Rio

Tryst with woman prior to Rio Games left Canadian pole vaulter with trace amounts of cocaine in his system

Shawn Barber fails to clear 5.65 metres in the men's pole vault final during the athletics competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, August 15, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Shawn Barber fails to clear 5.65 metres in the men’s pole vault final during the athletics competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, August 15, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO — The 16-page report on Shawn Barber’s positive cocaine test reads in parts like an erotic short story.

Sex, drugs and a hotel rendezvous, with Canada’s world champion pole vaulter playing the starring role just weeks before his Olympic debut.

But hours after the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada released its report on the bizarre — and salacious — chain of events that led up to his doping violation, Barber chalked it up to a “learning experience.”

“There’s no reason to cry over spilt milk, and you can’t do anything about it, so might as well just smile and learn to love it,” Barber said on a conference call Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Toronto tested positive for trace amounts of the recreational drug prior to the Rio Olympics, but he was still allowed to compete in Brazil after it was ruled he inadvertently ingested the banned substance.

“I’m very happy with the process that we went to,” Barber said from Akron, Ohio, where he lives and trains. “It was quite an ordeal going into the Olympics, but everything worked out the way it was supposed to.”

The SDRCC rendered its decision on Aug. 11, four days before Barber vaulted to a 10th-place finish in Rio.

Barber claimed he ingested the cocaine July 8, on the eve of winning the Canadian title in Edmonton, by kissing a woman he’d met through the “casual encounters” section of Craigslist. His intent for the sexual rendezvous, he said, was a way to relieve stress. He’d posted for a “professional person,” and specified he wanted someone who was drug and disease-free.

The woman, referred to in the report as “W,” testified that she consumed cocaine before she met Barber and then again in the bathroom of his hotel room. She said that he could not have known she’d used the drug, and that she felt “horrible about what happened,” and would hate to be the reason for Barber not achieving his dream.

When asked if he’d do anything differently, Barber called it “a learning experience.”

“But given the circumstances, you understand that I live my life in a hotel,” he said. “So it can be rough at times, but it’s kind of the way. . . I dunno. . .”

Shawn Barber waves to the crowd after being eliminated at 5.65 metres in the men's pole vault final during the athletics competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, August 15, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Shawn Barber at the 2016 Summer Olympics. (Frank Gunn, CP) 

Barber’s lawyer Paul Greene interjected at that point, saying Barber exercised “utmost caution.”

“He felt like somebody in a bar who met him and thought he was Shawn Barber could have spiked his drink,” said Greene. “So in his mind, he was actually exercising utmost caution by not going into the hotel bar and trying to meet someone. Because Shawn never drinks anything that anybody offers him, never goes into a bar and has that kind of thing because he understands the risk of contamination through sabotage, but didn’t understand the risk of contamination through kissing.”

Barber said online encounters are a reality of the modern dating world and that he’ll need to be more careful in the future.

“There is more caution that I have to take now because I realize that I put myself at risk by kissing a girl. . . you don’t know that kissing her could possibly transfer some sort of substance into your body,” he said.

The woman also said she’d consumed a 26-ounce bottle of vodka that evening, and had four or five drinks before meeting Barber. She offered him a drink, she said, which he declined. According to the report, there was no money exchanged in the encounter, which was arranged through a man referred to as “M” in the report, and was the woman’s boyfriend at the time.

“M” was in the room for part of the sexual encounter, which according to the report, lasted about 30 minutes.

The hearing took place on Aug. 5, the same day as the Olympic opening ceremony. The sport dispute centre didn’t release its report until Thursday after WADA and the IAAF — the world governing bodies for anti-doping and track and field — had reviewed the case and determined they wouldn’t appeal.

While the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport initially proposed a four-year ban from competition, Barber wasn’t suspended but was stripped of his 2016 national title.

“The positive finding in this case was no fault of Shawn,” said Roy Guy, the CEO of Athletics Canada. “We’re thankful that the proper procedures picked up the substance, but we’re also ensuring that due process to Shawn was allowed in coming to a fair and reasonable decision.

“We’re supportive of Shawn, it’s been a learning experience for him, as a young athlete.”

Barber said after Athletics Canada head coach Peter Eriksson first informed him of the doping violation, he was told to “retrace your last two weeks.”

The athlete said he’d had treatment for a knee injury, and went back to his doctors and reviewed medications, to rule out a false positive.

“It wasn’t until I heard about this Gasquet case that I thought there could be more of a possibility somewhere else,” Barber said.

In what was dubbed the “Cocaine Kiss,” tennis player Richard Gasquet tested positive for the drug, convincing an anti-doping tribunal he’d ingested it after kissing a woman in a Miami nightclub.

Arbitrator Ross Dumoulin wrote in his decision that “Counsel emphasized that Mr. Barber chose a random woman he had no history with, knew very little about and had barely met in person for five minutes before kissing. This was a premeditated effort by the athlete to have a sexual encounter with a stranger in a hotel room. Exercising utmost caution would require him to have made inquiries to satisfy himself that there was no cocaine involved.”

Barber was a strong hope for a medal at the Rio Olympics after winning the 2015 world title in Beijing. But he struggled in the rainy conditions in Rio.

It’s been a tumultuous year for the vaulter, whose dad George was banned by Athletics Canada last fall. George Barber had acted as Shawn’s coach until Canada’s governing body for the sport learned of his 2007 criminal conviction on charges of having sex with a student while employed at a U.S. high school.

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