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No more excuses that all is possible

Published on April 28th, 2019

The Olympic Laser event for the US Sailing Team is a strength, but not so much to expect a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Games. American Chris Barnard wants to change that, and his win at 2019 Princess Sofia Trophy (April 1-6) in Spain provided evidence of the possibility.

Chris shared his progress in a revealing interview with Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck and here offers further insight into the win and the road ahead:

Winning the Princess Sofia Trophy is definitely the highlight of my career, a regatta that is probably one of the top five toughest Olympic class regattas there is, especially when you look at the list of past champions in the Laser class.

I went toe to toe against all the top competition in the World full of World Champions and Olympic Medalists. Without all the hard work both on and off the water, staying present and having great mindfulness, that performance would not be possible.

I have now moved up the Mediterranean coast to Hyeres, France for the French Olympic Week (April 29-May 4. The fleet is looking to be smaller and not as deep, but still including most of the top guys, racing taking place April 29-May 4th. I will be looking to keep that presence and mindfulness all the way through and continue to work on the little things to improve my overall sailing.

As John (coach John Bertrand) said, what was really impressive was the performance, not necessarily the result, and that is what we can control every day, particularly in a sport like sailing. Enjoy the process and perform each day.

Thank you all for your continued support for my Olympic dreams. This is a huge breakthrough performance, but there is plenty of work to do. All this event proves is that we are capable of great things and there are no more excuses that all is possible. Now it is time to just continue the hard work and keep improving on the little things.
Chris describes the dramatic conclusion of the Princess Sofia Trophy:

I sailed an extremely consistent series scoring a 4-9-4-4-6-6-8-11-3-(39), discarding the final race with no worries, taking a 12-point lead into the Medal Race. I very much stuck to the goals that John and I set out at the middle of the week.

My starts were actually inconsistent, half the time really good and putting me into the 10 at the first mark right away, able to play the game, and comfortably secure and solid score. The other half the time when my starts were poor, I did a really good job to salvage those bad starts with good speed and smart decisions that put me mid-fleet at the top mark, now in a strong position to mount a comeback.

My comebacks were executed extremely well with strong downwind speed and savvy second beats to consistently climb back into the top 10 by the finish line. To string together a score line of nearly all top 10 finishes together like that is something that is not easy to do, as many of my competitors such as legend and now good friend Robert Scheidt kindly complimented to me after the event.

Now I entered the double-points Medal Race for the top 10 boats in gold medal position. I held a 12-point lead, and enough of a gap that I was guaranteed at least silver medal. With that distinct advantage, the plan was to attack my good friend on the circuit with the number 2 jersey on, Elliot Hanson from Great Britain.

Conditions were heavy with 20-25 knot winds from the west and 2-meter waves. Elliot definitely has strong speed, so I didn’t want to give him an opportunity to get into space and speed away from me, but rather rely on my match racing and team racing experience to drive him back in the fleet to secure the win.

As the sequence ticked down, it became apparent to me that it would be hard to control him with the big wind and waves, so I figured my best move was to go for a “last second” attack to either force him into a penalty or over the line.

I went for that move with about 20 seconds to go, hooking him to leeward. He quickly spun out of the hook, I called for an umpire ruling, but they ruled green flag and no penalty, which I believe was the right call at the time. I was hoping that by spinning him off, he would be forced to tack into another boat, and either foul them or into bad traffic.

Unfortunately, he was able to tack back in space, where I was suddenly right next to the pin end of the line. I hardly had any room to maneuver to accelerate and sitting nearly over the line.

Scrambling to just get off the line without hitting the pin or be over early, I escaped, but now very much on my heels with a poor acceleration while the rest of the fleet was full speed off the line. Sure enough, Elliot got a flying start and was off to a quick lead while I was rolled off the line in 10th and last position.

Now I had my back against the wall. This was a moment where I could either accept that I messed up and accept that it wasn’t going to happen, or I was going to fight and put everything out there to make it happen in a condition that has never been my strength. To say the least, I chose the latter and put it all on the line.

With Elliot clearly with a jump on the fleet and looking to be on his way to a medal race win, I knew I had to pass some really fast guys and finish at least 6th in the race to secure gold. The remainder of the first beat I just told myself to keep it close and stay in the game, rounding the top mark in 10th but within striking distance.

On the downwind, I just let it fly and see how much distance I could make up, rounding the bottom gate even with 8th place. The second beat I knew I had to put all the hard gym work to the test and “hike until I throw up.” I got a nice right shift, now in 7th place, closing in on the next two boats and with a considerable gap in front of the trailing boats.

Now at the final top mark approaching the final run, I had the words go through my head, “Lets Fly!” to pass that final boat. I had a good exit from the top mark catching the first wave, while Hermann Tomasgaard of Norway just in front came around mark slow and now I had my opportunity.

I kept the pedal down, sitting back of the boat, planing away, and attacking the big breeze and rolling waves down the course, but still aware of what was needed to secure Gold. Recognizing I now had leeward control of Hermann with the trailing fleet behind considerably back, I took control, luffed him to a reach, knocked him off of one the big waves, while I bore back down onto that same wave, leaving him scrambling to get his speed back. Now I was into the clear, planing into the final mark before the gybe onto the short reach to the finish.

The feelings that flowed through my entire body on that final reach for the next 20 minutes was pure ecstasy. From the adrenaline fueled screaming and pounding of the deck crossing the finish line, to the overwhelming rush of emotion breaking down into tears, to the realization of what I had just accomplished and smiling ear to ear, that is something that I will never forget. You can see the sequence of emotions in photos below.

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