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A Q&A with Chris Barnard about winning Laser gold at the Trofeo Princesa Sofia Iberostar

by David Schmidt 11 Apr 09:00 PDT April 11, 2019
Chris Barnard (Newport Beach, Calif.) receiving award for first place in the Laser class - 50th Trofeo S.A.R Princesa Sofia Iberostar Regatta © Sailing Energy

The road to Olympic glory is a long and often arduous one, typically filled with a series of regattas that—if they go well—can lead to a berth on one’s national Olympic sailing team and a shot at earning Olympic gold. One of the most anticipated of these annual Olympic class regattas is the Trofeo Princesa Sofia Iberostar, which just wrapped up its 50th edition (March 29-April 6) on the waters off of Palma de Majorca, Spain. American Laser sailor Chris Barnard earned the international limelight by taking home the gold medal in the Men's Laser class, beating out a talent-packed field of 187 sailors, including Robert Scheidt (BRA), who previously won two Laser Olympic gold medals and nine Laser World Championships.

Fast company, to say the least.

This win was Barnard’s first victory on a seriously international stage, however the 27-year-old from Newport Beach, California is no stranger to tough competition. Barnard took up sailing as a junior and handily dominated the Southern California racing circuit before winning the 2005 Junior Sabot Nationals.

Barnard skillfully parlayed this win into a highly successful high school sailing career that included four National Championship titles. A marketing degree from Georgetown University followed, and along the way he earned a slew of honors in college sailing and in Lasers, including Collegiate Sailor of the Year in 2012.

Impressively, 2012 was also the year that he won his first Laser North American Champion title, an achievement he has since repeated twice.

Barnard is now vying for a berth aboard Team USA for the XXXII Olympiad, which will be held in Tokyo, Japan, from July 24-August 9, 2020. I checked in with him, via email, to learn more about his impressive win at the 2019 Trofeo Princesa Sofia Iberostar.

How long have you been sailing Lasers? What about on an international level?

I first stepped into Laser Radials as a youth sailor when I was 15 years old. I moved onto national and international events in the Radial and then the Standard rig, while sailing many other classes and disciplines all the way through college.

After I graduated Georgetown University in May 2013, that’s when I began my Olympic campaign and fully committed to the international Olympic racing.

Do you have a set of preferred or “fast” conditions? Also, are these the conditions that you experienced in Spain?

I’ve always been known amongst my competitors for my speed downwind, but my strengths are expanding all around the racecourse, and my performance showed that.

Palma is a unique venue where you can get every type of condition possible, and we definitely got that during the Trofeo Princess Sofia. We had crazy offshore winds blowing through the mountains, big swell and strong breeze coming into the bay as the cold fronts roll through, and the classic Palma sea breeze that reminds me of home.

It truly is one of my favorite venues around the world.

Was there one specific “key” to your fantastic win, or was it more the culmination of many little things? Can you please explain?

There were definitely a lot of little things that helped me be in a position to succeed last week.

My coach John Bertrand and I put in hours upon hours of hard work over the last few months into [correcting] previous weaknesses in my skills like upwind boatspeed and starting.

With those pieces of the puzzle sorted, I was able to continually put myself tactically opportunistic positions around the racecourse to make the next gain and then capitalize on it. Then overall, I had a great, mindful headspace, and was able to enjoy the opportunities that were in front of me regardless of circumstances.

That was on full display with my performance in the medal race, coming back from last position and grinding boats down to secure the victory on the final run.

What was the bigger component to your win—mental or physical strength? Also, how did you prepare for this challenge ahead of time?

Both physical and mental strength were a big part of it, and the win wouldn’t be possible without both.

The best way I can describe it is that you can’t even play the game at the top of the Laser class consistently unless you have the speed and your are physically able to maximize the performance of the boat. That’s where a lot of work with my fitness trainers put me in a position to succeed.

Then from there, my mental strength was really what took my performance to the next level. As they say, the mental side is what truly separates the good from the great.

With all the work I’ve done with John and my sports psychologist, practicing my visualization and mindfulness, I was in a really good headspace and ready for every moment that was put in front of me.

What was your biggest/most important lesson or piece of insight that you learned from this proud win? Also, how can you implement this lesson into your sailing, moving forward?

I think the biggest lesson for me was how the power of self-belief and mindfulness has altered my day-to-day appreciation of my sailing each day, the program as a whole, and life in general. I now see them all as great opportunities from within, not as pressures from outside.

With that, it makes it much easier for me to naturally apply killer-instinct work ethic that I have deep inside of me to everything I do and not get distracted by irrelevant things.

So with this experience and victory, it gives me more confidence to trust that process, go all in, and know I will at least come out appreciative of what I am able to do.

What is your biggest sailing objective over the next 12 months, and what’s your plan to accomplish it?

The biggest thing is focusing on my Olympic trials, which mainly comprise of the next two world championships, Sakaiminato, Japan in July 2019 and Melbourne, Australia in February 2020.

This victory was obviously a big breakthrough, but there is still a TON of work to be done.

All [this win] proves is that I am capable of accomplishing great things—now it’s time to just put in the work and execute.

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

I just want to thank everyone that has been a supporter of my sailing each step of the way, all the way from the beginning. I’ve had so many different coaches, teammates, mentors, friends, family, and donors reach out, and the messages have been overwhelming.

They are all part of this process and each [has] their part in the win. I thank all of them for giving me this opportunity; I wouldn’t be here without them.

As I said, this [win] was a great breakthrough moment, but now it’s time to move forward and get back to work. Onto Hyeres.

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