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An interview with Nikole Barnes-Bargehr and Ted McDonough on their 470 campaign

by David Schmidt 13 Dec 2023 16:00 GMT December 13, 2023
Barnes and McDonough in Marsielle France 5 © Barnes and McDonough

Winter's chill might be setting in across most of North America, but things are heating up for sailors hoping to represent the USA at the Paris 2024 Olympics (July 26-August 11). The U.S. Olympic Trials are set to unfurl on the waters off of Miami, Florida, twice this winter, first from January 4-13 for the 49ers, 470s, Men's iQFOILs, Women's iQFOILs, and Men's Formula Kites; then again from February 15-24 for the ILCA 6s and 7s.

Amongst those teams vying to represent the USA in the Mixed Two Person Dinghy event, which will be contested in International 470s, at next summer's Olympiad are Nikole Barnes-Bargehr and Ted McDonough.

Barnes-Bargehr is a native of St. Thomas, USVI, and has sailed since she could crawl. She and Lara Dallman-Weiss represented the USA in the Women's 470 at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, finishing in 12th place out of 21 competing nations. Since then, Barnes-Bargehr, a graduate of the United States Coast Guard Academy, completed her service and began a family with her husband, David Bargehr.

McDonough grew up playing a wide variety of sports—from baseball to soccer (including sailing)—in his hometown of San Francisco. Sailing became his focus during the pandemic, and McDonough focused his attention on dominating the 420 class.

The Olympics shifted the 470's standing for Paris 2024 from the platform for the Men's and Women's two-person dinghy (separate classes, separate medals) to the equipment for the Mixed Two Person Dinghy (one class, one medal).

This created an opportunity for Barnes-Bargehr and McDonough to join forces for an Olympic campaign this past summer, with Barnes-Bargehr driving and McDonough crewing. Since then, they've been competing in regattas from the Midwest to Europe. I checked in with them to learn more.

How did you guys link up as teammates?

NBB: This summer we decided to try sailing together at a training camp with the Oyster Bay Sailing Team. After a couple of weeks of training, we decided to form a team.

Earlier in the year, Ted got a taste of the 470 when he was one of the few accepted into the Olympic Development 470 program.

What are the strengths that you each bring to the table? Also how are you guys leveraging these to create force-multiplier team strengths?

NBB: Ted is the young gun, full of fire, and is always eager to keep pushing. I am the old dog with one Olympics under my belt and with years of experience in the 470.

Together we are both motivated to put in long hours on the water. If there's ever a problem, we are both eager to work to solve it.

I'm not sure if there is a team that works harder than us!

What areas are you polishing ahead of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in January?

NBB: We both have a lot of years of sailing under our belts. Now, it's about putting our experiences together and building the team dynamic. This is the most crucial thing to work on for all double-handed boats to maintain longevity for the team.

Of course, it doesn't hurt to work on boatspeed, maneuvers, starts, tactics, and strategy, too.

I note that you both hail from breeze-on locations. Would I be correct in thinking that your sweet-spot conditions involve white caps?

NBB: We love the breeze. We just recently finished up a training camp in Marseille, France where every day except for one, we had breeze touching 20 knots and higher. The waves were incredible and when we surfed a particularly nice wave, Ted would give a "wahoo" from the wire.

While we love the breeze, we understand that the trials might not have the "wahoo" conditions that we enjoy sailing in, so we have also spent a good amount of time in the lighter conditions. This way, we are ready for all conditions that we might see in the trials and the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Are you guys training with and sparing against other U.S.-flagged Mixed 470 teams, or are you training on your own?

NBB: We are on the Oyster Bay Sailing Team, and we have several teammates that we train against. There are a lot of moving parts, so we try and sail with as many boats as possible but if there is no one available, then we train on our own.

We are a very open team, and we also have a goal of building the U.S. 470 fleet back. Training with other U.S. teams is important to help accomplish this.

As a follow up to the last question, are you guys working with team coaches? Private coaches? Can you please shed some light on your straining strategy and tactics up to now?

NBB: We are working with the team coach for the Oyster Bay Sailing Team, and [we] also have some expert coaches who contribute to the progress of the team at different times. It all depends on what we are working on!

How are your fundraising efforts going so far?

NBB: We are grateful to have an incredible team of supporters!

Fundraising in an Olympic campaign is one of the hardest things to do, believe it or not. The U.S. is one of the only countries that does not receive government funding for athletes training for the Olympics.

We are working hard to raise funds and have been fortunate enough to get support from the New York Sailing Foundation, Belvedere Yacht Club Foundation, St. Francis Sailing Foundation, and the Windmark Sailing Foundation. The Windmark Sailing Foundation has been particularly supportive by matching donations by 50% to every dollar they receive.

If anyone would like to donate to our team, please visit the Windmark Sailing Foundation website at

Is there anything else about your campaign that you'd like to add, for the record?

NBB: Growing up on the small island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I never knew where my sailing would take me or how it would help me grow as a person. I just knew that I liked to race hard and always wanted to get better.

Whenever I am struggling as a new mom and as an athlete, I think back to the 'simpler' days. For example, when I learned to tack with the tiller extension for the first time or when I won a race at my Optimist Worlds. Then I say to myself, "What would little Nikki do?" I sail to make little Nikki proud.

So, to all the younger sailors, especially girl sailors who have doubts, think back to why you got into this sport, think of where you want to be, and believe in yourself.

Sometimes the only thing you need to do is to make a small step of progress forward to see that you are moving in the correct direction.

TM Campaigning for me is a dream come true, and I'm so glad that I decided to pursue it. I am just at the beginning of my Olympic sailing journey, and I am very excited about what is to come.

I never thought I would have a chance to do something like this, but over time I got closer and closer to my goals and ended up going for it. I am looking forward to continuing my Olympic journey and hopefully achieving an Olympic medal in the future.

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