After representing the USA at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and finishing 2nd at the US Trials for the 2012 Games in London, Ben Barger took a couple of years off to focus on his life and career off the water, and many thought he was retiring at the top of his game. But the allure of international competition called him back to the sport he loves! He was in Miami for two back-to-back events this past January, taking little time to clear out the cobwebs and finishing 3rd American at the ISAF World Cup. The US Trials for the Rio Games early next year are now clearly in his sight. He has a few more grey hair than his competitors this time around, but tremendous experience on the world stage, and experience is key to a successful Olympic campaign. We caught up with Ben between training sessions at his home base in St Petersburg.
US Windsurfing: Ben, you’ve been at the top of the US Olympic windsurfing pyramid for 10-15 years, and you’ve represented the Stars and Stripes at the Beijing Games in 2008. You’re 34 now, you have a very successful professional career… What is it that brought you back to Olympic windsurfing?
Ben Barger: I missed competing. It’s just so much fun and no other success in life can compare to the feeling of racing. I also enjoy the challenges of having to work my way back into it. I also know that it will challenge all the other US competitors, and that should improve the overall US performance no matter how it turns out.
USW: There are many steps from here to Rio: a) qualifying the country in Oman this year or in Miami next year; b) winning the US qualifier in Miami and Palma; c) and getting ready specifically for Rio. How do you keep it all straight in your mind? How do you prioritize?
BB: I only spent a few weeks on the board before the Miami world cup last month. First priority has been to get fit again, which I’m now committed to doing. I go straight from work to training into the sunset Monday thru Friday. I spend 2-4 hours now out on the weekend. It’s not ideal, but it doesn’t take as much for me to get fit because of all the muscle memory from years of competing.
My focus is solely on winning the US Olympic Trials. So Oman, Miami, and Palma are the events I’ll come prepared. I’ve also bought a bunch of sails, fins, masts and will test them this year and mesh that with some of my best gear picks from the last campaign.
USW: The US selection for Rio will come down to two events: Miami and Palma next spring. What are your best and worse memories from those venues over the years?
BB: Miami is waiting for wind. You never know when the regatta is over. Best is knowing you’ll be in board shorts in January! Palma is the swell, it can make sailing in 35 knots really challenging with the mountains. It’s much different than Florida sailing.
USW: You’ve inspired many kids to work hard and follow in your footsteps. Some of them are now good enough that they’ll make you work for the US berth in Rio! What do you think of this new generation of RS:X sailors, and how cool is it to compete with them?
BB: I think it’s awesome to know I’ve been windsurfing longer than they’ve been on Earth! I’m glad they are training so much and taking the Olympic Program so seriously. I’m enjoying training with them as much as possible!
USW: You’re practicing in the St Pete / Clearwater area these days. What makes it such a great training environment?
BB: It’s always good weather. Makes it easy to get out and blast around!
USW: Where will we see you compete next?
BB: I’m going to try to do Palma (ndlr: March 28 – April 4, 2015) but not exactly sure with my work. If not, for sure a summer event.
Get more insights from Ben’s return to competition and his 2016 campaign at benbarger.com