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Selden 2020 - LEADERBOARD

An interview with Will Jones and Justin Barnes on their 49er campaign for the 2024 Olympics

by David Schmidt 18 Jun 16:00 BST July 26– August 11, 2024
Justin Barnes and Will Jones racing at the 2023 Allianz Sailing World Championships © Sailing Energy

When it comes to high-performance Olympic boats, the 49er is one of the fastest—and one of the most challenging to sail—classes that will sail into battle at the Paris 2024 Olympics (July 26- August 11, 2024). The weight-sensitive skiffs carry ample sail area, upwind and down (but especially off-the-breeze), and test their sailors' athletics prowess as much as they do their racecourse acumen.

Canada will be represented in this high-performance class by Will Jones and Justin Barnes. The two have been sailing together since 2022, however Jones—then racing with Evan DePaul—earned 19th place in the 49er at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

For his part, Barnes has been racing 49ers for almost a decade—including two other campaigns, the first with David Mori and the second with Alex Heinzemann, that stretched from 2013 to 2020—and is no stranger to high-level competition.

I checked in with Jones and Barnes, via email, to learn more about their campaign.

Can you please tell us a bit about your campaign for these Games? What have been the biggest challenges that you've had to overcome so far?

One of the biggest challenges we have had to overcome as a team has been managing the pressure of the multiple steps of Olympic qualification—including country qualification and trials selection—while also overcoming the challenges of being a new team in one of the most competitive fleets in the world.

We officially teamed up in December 2022 with the goal of representing Canada at the 2024 Olympic Games in the 49er class, and it has been pretty full-on ever since.

After the retirement of Will's long-time teammate Evan DePaul, and Justin's return after almost two-and-a-half years away from competing in the 49er class, our work was cut out for us as a new team heading into the busiest year of the Olympic quadrennial. We have known each other as Canadian Sailing Team teammates and as friends for many years, and together we have over 15 years of combined experience in the 49er class.

We have been able to lean on this experience and grow quickly as a team during the final one-and-a-half years in the Olympic quadrennial.

Within weeks of teaming up we jumped straight into the Pan Am Games trials regatta in Florida in February 2023 and were able qualify to represent Canada at this important event. Soon after, we qualified for gold fleet at the Hyeres Olympic Week 2023 and competed in the Olympic Test Event at the Olympic venue in Marseille, France.

These experiences helped us prepare for the 2023 Pan Am Games in Chile, where we were able to bring home a bronze medal and secure Canada's country berth in the 49er at the 2024 Olympic Games. Most recently, Will and I were able to win the Canadian Olympic Trials and have been nominated to Canada's Olympic team.

What do you see as your biggest strengths going into the Paris Olympics?

Within weeks of starting to sail with each other it was clear we had complimentary skillsets and could work well as a team. We feel confident in our ability to sail the 49er well, but our biggest strength is staying composed as a team during high-pressure situations. In every step towards Olympic qualification, we have been in close situations where it came down to the final race.

We have been able to dig deep in each of these situations, as well as stay calm and collected as a team, and do what we needed to do to accomplish our goal. We have shown we can push ourselves when under pressure.

Let's invert that last question—what do you see as your weak spots? Also, how do you plan to address these between now and late July?

With the Olympics under two months away, we have only a few final opportunities to prepare. We are now set up to continue our training at the Olympic venue in Marseille, and we have organized specific training blocks around two "Coach's Regattas" taking place through June.

We have a few very specific goals for each of these camps, including conducting some final testing of our Olympic equipment and figuring out some specific racing situations, and we intend to put everything we have into preparing the best we can.

You guys recently finished in 39th place in the Worlds and 35th at the Princess Sofia Regatta. How hard do you think it will be to build on these results at the Games? Also, do you think the smaller fleet size at the Olympics will be a help or a hinderance in this respect?

Although we had hoped to perform a bit better at the Worlds and the Princess Sofia Regatta, these events were also our Canadian trials which brought a different type of focus. We expect the Olympics to be a different type of regatta, with the smaller fleet size definitely changing the feeling of the racing.

There will also be no qualifying series, with the regatta being what would normally be considered "final series" racing from the very beginning.

We feel that we can sail the 49er well and that we have nothing to lose in this scenario, allowing us to race aggressively at the Olympic Games.

How much time have you been spending in Marseille over the past few years? Also, when do you plan to move there ahead of the Games?

We were able to spend almost six weeks in Marseille last summer in 2023 in the lead up to the Olympic Test Event. We are now set up in Marseille and will be doing all of our training there until the Olympics begin at the end of July.

Can you please walk us through a typical day of on-the-water training look like?

As you can imagine, our on-water training days look different depending on the conditions and our training goals. On the average day, we are trying to pack in at least one two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hour session on the water, a gym session, an hour or two of boat maintenance/setup, a debrief from our sailing session, and time throughout the day to eat all the calories we need to recover and maintain our energy and weight.

Our training days are always pretty full-on!

Who have you been training with for this quadrennial? Any teams in particular? Also, who have you been working with on the coaching side?

We have been training with a combination of Canadian and international training partners and coaches.

In early 2023 we were training with fellow Canadians Sam Bonin and Arie Moffat. We began training with ITA 23 Simone Ferrarese and Leo Chistè in June of 2023, and [we] have done most of our training with them over the past year. More recently we have also been training with Canadians Thomas and Will Staples.

On the coaching side of things, we have had the opportunity to work with Giulia Conti from Italy, Paul Brotherton from the UK, Jorge Lima from Portugal, and Erik van der Pol and Ken Dool from Canada.

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