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49ers Claim Pizza & Beer Okay!

Ian Barrows and Hans Henken have qualified for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in the 49er after campaigning together for 1300+ days including some 500 training days on the water. For the pair, it’s both exciting and overwhelming, a life-long dream come true while also a reality that in the Olympic Games, the work is never done.

“I don’t think anyone who is about to participate at the Olympics is where they want to be – everyone is still climbing and trying to get better,” Henkens (31) commented. “It’s not enough just to say, “We’re going to the Games and just settle for what we have. It would be easy to do that and it would be the wrong approach. Everyone is trying to get better and better up until the last second.”

2024 Lanzarote 49er and FX Worlds
© Sailing Energy / Lanzarote Sailing Center
06 March, 2024

Securing their place at the 33rd edition of the Olympics with a win at the recent Olympic Trials held in Miami in January,  while that event was their most stressful to date, a do or die proposition, Barrows (29) acknowledged that dealing with that level of pressure was an important lesson.

“I was super excited to win the Trials, it’s been a life-long goal of mine to go to the Olympics,” Barrows said. “It was a little weird to have done something that you were always trying to do for so long, but it was a huge sense of relief to get through it. I was exhausted because it was so long (twenty-one races), but for the most part excited and I am looking forward to continue to improve to put on a good performance in Marseille in August.”

Maintaining that edge and carrying it through to the actual Games is a skill that all Olympic athletes have to develop, as Barrows concurred.

“You either win and move forward, or you don’t and nothing else happens, so learning about coping mechanisms under huge stress and pressure was a good take away. In the Trials we had one stretch with two or three bad races in a row which was concerning – we thought if we didn’t put up a few good results that the others would slip away from us. With so many races so it was easy to think, “there are ten more races,” but you can’t get too ahead of yourself.”

The pair are on a diligent training schedule of three weeks on and a week off. They plan on five blocks of training between now and the Olympics: in April they will race French Olympic Week in Hyeres, in May the 2024 Europeans in La Grande Motte, France. In June and July, they’ll take on three more camps in Marseille leading up to the Games.

“It’s been good to take our recent break to get healthy and fit,” Barrows noted. “Hans is still recovering from some injuries so slowing down and reassessing is important.”

With a view to training, Henken and Barrows are uber focused on improving boat speed.

2024 Lanzarote 49er and FX Worlds
© Sailing Energy / Lanzarote Sailing Center
08 March, 2024

“We’re always trying to get faster, upwind specifically,” Barrows noted. “That is just something you can’t be good enough at, perfecting the technique between the two people, being in sync as much as possible, we’re always working on that. We’re working on our starts, having a higher percentage of good starts, and being able to be in a good enough lane to sail our best VMG.”

Hans added, “We are also focused on building really concrete strategies around tactics on the racecourse, improving our vocabulary and communication, and being more disciplined about our decision-making so that there is less to be thinking about while we are racing. Then we can focus more on technique and making the boat go as fast as possible. Our competitors are incredibly good, and while we’ve had a lot of good podium finishes in the past three years the consistency has not been there – we’re working on building that.”

Barrows and Henken have been sailing together since the summer of 2020 while many of their competitors have been campaigning together for 8-10 years. Nonetheless, they have developed a tight chemistry in that relatively short time.

“Our team chemistry has never been better, we were on cloud 9 from winning the Trials and now that’s worn off a bit we’re back to being super-focused and attending to details to try to improve,” Henkens said. “We’re quite different – I tend to be very calculated and very planned while Ian is very open and easy-going; he is really good at not allowing bad decisions or problems affect him too much so he’s really good at the gray area and indecisiveness that comes with campaigning sometimes – he lets that roll off his back. “I’m the planner and schemer,” Henkens added, laughing.

Paying attention to nutrition and diet, and keeping fit, is tantamount to a top performance, both guys agree.

“I like to play other sports a lot – tennis, squash, basketball and I surf – luckily they all keep you in shape and they are meditative and relaxing,” Barrows smiled, adding, “And every now and again we eat a pizza and have a beer! You don’t want to torture yourself otherwise you’ll be in a negative mental state but you also can’t indulge all  the time.”

As the workhorse on the boat, Henkens especially needs to keep up his cardio fitness so he’s in the gym five to six days a week on a non-sailing week, three days a week when he’s sailing. He does a combination of strength training to maintain a very specific body weight, and he’s catching cardio by road biking, erging and running.

The pair agree that maximizing their potential in the time that they have left to put themselves in podium contention come August is the ultimate goal.

“Specifically, for me, I’ve quit the SailGP work and I’ve made this my entire focus for the next five months,” Henkens said. “Representing the USA at the Olympic Games and try to win a podium for the US has been my childhood dream by far, and my life for the last fifteen years figuring out how to get there. To say that I am going to be an Olympian and participate at the Games is awesome (big smile) and amazing!”

Images: Courtesy Sailing Energy

Michelle Slade49ers Claim Pizza & Beer Okay!