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A Q&A with Nikki Barnes and Lara Dallman-Weiss about their 470 campaign

by David Schmidt 17 Jan 08:00 PST January 27-February 3, 2019

While the XXXII Olympiad, which will be held in Tokyo, Japan, from July 24-August 9, 2020, feels like a long ways off, the reality is that these Games are fast approaching for the sailors who wish to represent their nation. First, countries need to qualify for events and then sailors need to win their own individual or team berth. Additionally, there’s plenty of pressure to raise funds, train, practice, train and then practice some more, all with the goal of reaching peak performance just as the starting guns begin to fire for the once-per-quadrennial Olympic regatta.

Sounds easy, right?

For U.S.-flagged sailors this is an especially tough ask given that—unlike their international rivals who often benefit from handsome government funding—they have to raise a large percentage of their own funds.

I checked in with USCG Lt. (j.g.) Nikole 'Nikki' Barnes, who was Quantum's 2016 Woman Sailor of the Year and a bronze medalist at the 2011 ISAF Youth Worlds in the Girls 420, and her sailing partner, Lara Dallman-Weiss, who was a member of US Sailing’s Development Team for Women’s 470 in 2013, via email, ahead of the 2019 World Cup Series Miami (January 27-February 3) to learn more about their dreams to represent the USA at the 2020 Summer Olympics in the highly competitive Women’s 470 class.

How did you guys link up and start sailing together? US Sailing, or do you know each other from junior and college sailing? Also, how long have you been sailing together?

We were truly lucky in that we were introduced through a mutual friend. Even though we had both been in the sailing circuit for many years, we had not met prior to April 2018.

Our first sail together was the day we met. We spent an hour together and our first conversations weren’t idle get-to-know-you chatter but focused solely on how to make the 470 go as fast as we could as a team.

Given that we have a clear, mutual goal, our team formed as a business and our friendship has organically developed along the way.

Why the 470? Don’t some of the newer, foiling boats hold interest, or is there something about the 470 that speaks to you guys?

Well, there is something to be said for a boat that has been an Olympic class for 42 years. So many legendary sailors have roots in the 470. We want to learn from everything the class will teach us!

And as incredible as foiling is, the crossover between speed and tactics makes the [470] unique and thrilling. It’s a challenge that we love.

What does your training schedule look like? How often do you train together, where do you sail and who are you working with as a coach?

Our on-the-water training blocks have primarily been orchestrated to maximize the venue conditions where we are sailing and to train to our weaknesses. We spent a month in San Francisco, two months in Newport, and [last December] in Miami.

Beyond sail training is the mental and physical aspect of the sport. Since we both truly love pushing our bodies physically, the mental training is what has been more taxing. Working out helps. It teaches us to focus and to have control of the mind. It’s something we have been discussing with one of our coaches, Udi Gal.

Looking ahead, what are the key regattas for you guys as you prepare for Tokyo? 2019 Miami OCR, of course, but what other events are you really focused on in the next 6 months to one year?

Correct, SWC Miami (what we will always call OCR) on our home water in January. Beyond that, we have two phases planned. The first is the European spring series and the second is in Japan.

Since time is the single most valuable aspect of our campaign, we are always racing the clock. To this end, our goal for Tokyo is to acquire as much racing experience as we can as a team in preparation.

Lara: where are you based, what do you do for a living/school and how are you able to juggle these obligations with your Olympic campaign?

My brother has always told me, “resources follow commitment”. I made the commitment to sail with Nikki in April of 2018, and from that moment I was eager to get to work. I dove headfirst into our campaign: closed the media business I had started and stopped sailing with the teams [on] which I had been racing.

I wanted to make sure my teammate knew she could count on me. My obligations are to my teammate, to my country and to my sport, which means I have to use the knowledge and relationships I’ve formed over the past five years to enable Nikki and I to focus on winning in the 470.

Nikki: how difficult is it to balance your USCG deployment with your Olympic aspirations? Is the USCG fairly accommodating about Olympic-sailing dreams, or are you having to do this all on your own?

For the first time, the U.S. Coast Guard is supporting an officer’s Olympic campaign in a very strong way that allows me to remain on active duty. The service has placed me on a support allowance billet, which means my primary duty is to train full time. The incredible support I have received from the U.S. Coast Guard is something of which I could have never dreamed.

At that same time, it is hard every time I return to Miami because I see my shipmates advancing in their careers and serving on the long blue line, and I am torn between serving my country and representing my country, both dreams of mine.

At the end of the day, I know this campaign will make me a better U.S. Coast Guard officer when I return to the service after the Olympic Games.

Beyond the support I’ve received from the USCG, the Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association has shown the utmost support for our team by way of establishing an Elite Athlete Excellence Fund (www.cgaalumni.org/s/1043/uscga/index.aspx?sid=1043&gid=1&pgid=4410).

We simply could not devote the time and energy needed for a successful Olympic campaign without them.

One roll tack at a time, of course, but do you guys view Tokyo 2020 as the goal, or do you see it as the first of several quadrennials en route to winning Olympic glory?

We wouldn’t be campaigning right now if we didn’t believe it was possible for our team to medal in 2020. However, we both aspire to sail several campaigns and put the USA back on the map in the sport of sailing!

How have your fundraising efforts been going? Also, how much of the campaign are you having to finance yourself through self-generated sponsorship and how much support are you getting from US Sailing?

Fundraising has been going really well, we have organized our fundraising activities into small phases and are lucky to have reached our targets so far. However, we still have a large mountain ahead, especially because our Olympic country qualifiers are so far from home in Japan.

US Sailing has helped us out as much as they can. We are currently a part of the 470 Squad and now it is up to us to qualify the country and our team.

We are now just over 1.5 years before the starting guns sound for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics—what has your attention more, earning your Olympic berth or preparing for the competition that will exist in Japan?

Every move we make is with one thought in mind: to be on the podium for the 2020 Olympics. This is the singular vision from which all of our current plans stem. Qualifying for the Olympic berth is one of the puzzle pieces along the way, as is our fitness, our mental toughness, and the time we spend in the boat.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

Check out Perfect Vision Sailing on Facebook, Instagram and on the web perfectvisionsailing.com. We are so proud to sail for the USA and to represent the U.S. military. We are truly living our dreams.

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