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Conversations within the sport of sailing - Sally Barkow

It is often said how sailing is unique as a sport, where the opportunity is readiliy available to compete against the very best in the sport. Occassionally we get the chance to chat with them too.

Sally Barkow
(March 25, 2009) Sally Barkow won the US SAILING Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year award in 2005 and 2007, based largely on the tremendous success she and her Team 7 Sailing teammates - Debbie Capozzi and Carrie Howe - had garnered as they prepared for the women’s keelboat event at the 2008 Olympics. Sally’s team was a huge medal favorite in the event, and with only the medal race to go, the bronze medal was theirs to lose. Unfortunately, that is what happened, and after hit marks and jury penalties, they finished seventh overall. Here Sally discusses what happened:

  • Have you recovered from the 2008 Olympics? The final race for your team was agonizing to watch.

  • Agonizing to watch? How about racing it…it was a disappointment to say the least. It was a tough series for us, followed by the worst medal race we had ever sailed in the history of medal races. But that is the sport. Can’t be perfect every time, and sometimes when you want it the most, nothing goes your way…

    Recovered? Not sure I will ever be able to recover what we lost, but I have moved on and believe me the mistakes that were made will definitely stay with me forever. I have learned a lot and don’t plan on making them again.

  • Your team was dominant early in the quad, but seemed to lack consistency near the end.

  • I think it became harder for us to stay fresh in the last two years because we had hit a plateau and started searching for other things that would get us really far ahead, instead of accepting that now we just had to work on the execution of perfection.

  • How long had your team been together, and what advice would you give people who are competing in a team event for the Olympics?

  • We had been together for a long time, from Jan 2003 to August 2008 (at the Olympics). We were the only team in our fleet to stay together since before the 2004 Games. This was a major advantage but also had its disadvantages. I think at the beginning the learning curve was always high, then as time went on there was less to learn or change for the big improvements. Most teams reach that plateau and eventually everyone ended up in the same place; we just did it first.

    Some people say peaking is irrelevant (you should focus on perfection every event) but I think timing is important and it became difficult to stay extremely focused for two years waiting for the games, especially without any other US competition to push us to earn our spot for the Olympics. The way it worked out, we missed the hype and pressure of the US trials and had to use foreign teams for competition. Inevitably we fell behind.

    There is a lot I learned as our team progressed through the quad, but the most important was to keep having fun. Don’t get me wrong, you need to be focused, motivated and committed, but you also need to have fun. Once the fun goes away, it is really hard to get it back. If you are having fun, you are fresh, and in a good mental place, enjoying yourself, and respecting others. I was in the middle of it, but I do know that as an Olympic sailor it is extremely easy to get sucked into your own cocoon believing that your performance is the only thing that matters. This tunnel vision on life, great loss of perspective, is what I would work on preventing if I could do it all over.

  • Do you have any Ynglings? If so, how many, and are they for sale?

  • Yes I have 2 Ynglings For Sale! And a lot of Yngling parts and gear. It is all for sale!! Please contact me for any information:

  • Where are you now, and what are you up to?

  • After the Olympics, I took a bit of time off, now I am working for Frank Atkinson at Rigging Systems, in Miami. They helped us with custom work during the last Olympics and helped Betsy Alison during her campaign for the previous Olympics. Rigging Systems is pretty dialed in on tech issues and have a good rigging shop that focuses on the details that make a difference. I am focusing on sales for them and racing in various one-design classes as well as preparing for the match race circuit. Visit

  • Do you intend to compete for the 2012 Olympic match racing slot?

  • As well as working for Rigging Systems I will continue to sail a lot, specifically I will race on the international match race circuit, both open and women’s events. My ultimate goal is to create the first professional international women’s sailing team to compete on the open Match Race World Tour, but we have a lot of work to do first to achieve this. Realizing it is not easy to make a transition from Olympic sailing to pro sailing, or even big boat racing for women, it would be great to create a pathway for the future and be able to get more women into pro sailing.

    I have been match racing for the past 6 years just because I love it, so that will not change just because it has gone Olympic. I think it is great for women in the sport and, yes there has been a slight resistance with getting it all going (very typical at the beginning of a quad when new equipment has been selected). I know things will fall into line and it will be a good change and this change will intensify the level of women’s sailing and match racing. As for me, I’m hoping that what I am doing now will prepare me for 2012.

  • How different is the approach going to be for the Olympic match race event as compared to the keelboat event?

  • Not having your own equipment will be the biggest change; a nice perk for some teams, in the sense you do not have to worry about so many shipping logistics, boat work or equipment advantages/disadvantages. It will keep the focus on racing.

    There is already twice if not three times the amount of interest in the US because of this change to match racing in Elliotts (the Elliott 6 Metre keelboat will be used in the 2012 Olympics), so I think this will result in a higher level of competition. There is already a world wide well established match racing circuit that teams will be able to use for extended match race training, which previously was only available in the form of a few events with the open Yngling fleet.

    I think there will be a few options for success, but most importantly the more match racing a team can do at a level they can continue to learn from will be a great start.

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