Yale alumni Thomas Barrows ’10 and Joseph Morris ’12 have qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics, outcompeting the other U.S. teams over two qualifying events, culminating in last weekend’s 49er World Championships.
The 49er World Championships were held in Clearwater, Florida, from Feb. 9 to Feb. 14, during which 68 boats competed in the men’s fleet, fighting to not only take home the championship, but also achieve a sufficient score to qualify for the Olympics. While a New Zealand duo took home the Gold medal, Barrows and Morris outraced the 12 other U.S. boats and will join the U.S. Sailing Team in Rio de Janeiro in August.
“It was an extremely challenging event for a number of reasons,” Morris said. “The first being that it was the last world championship before the Olympics, so it was the most competitive regatta of the last four years. Everyone was trying to do as well as they possibly could, but make sure they beat the other sailors from their own country.”
Olympic qualifications demand strong results in two events: the ISAF World Cup and last weekend’s World Championships. Scores from both events are added together, and whichever team has the best cumulative result will go on to represent its country. Each participating country can send only one boat in the 49er event at the Olympics.
The ISAF World Cup took place in Miami over six days at the end of January, during which Barrows and Morris sailed to a 13th place result, five points better than the U.S. team comprised of Brad Funk and Trevor Burd, and eight better than Judge Ryan and Hans Henken. The teams met again in Clearwater; though Henken and Ryan placed 21st, two places above Barrows and Morris, they could not make up the gap created in Miami. Meanwhile, Funk and Burd placed 50th.
Three overall points ahead of Henken and Ryan, Barrows and Morris captured the Olympic berth thanks to their consistent performances in the two events.
Barrows and Morris met while competing for the Yale coed sailing team, and teamed up for an Olympic campaign in 2012 after Morris’ graduation. Both served as captain of the co-ed team during their respective Yale careers, and both were named ICSA All-Americans all four years of their time in New Haven. Additionally, Barrows was named College Sailor of the Year and received Yale’s prestigious William Neely Mallory award, given to one male athlete each year — he was the first and remains the only sailor to have received the award. He also competed in the 2008 Olympics, sailing single-handed Lasers to a 21st place finish on behalf of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“[Barrows and Morris] have been battle-tested together. They have been in high-pressure situations together before. They have a lot of trust and a lot of faith in each other,” said Yale sailing head coach Zachary Leonard, who coached both sailors while they were at Yale. “They had less financial backing than everyone that they were competing against [for the Olympics] and they got going later, and so it’s a study in their patience and their perseverance and their belief that if they just kind of held it together and kept doing the right thing, they would be rewarded.”
Five or six months ago, Leonard said, the pair’s prospects may have looked unlikely, especially after Morris dislocated his shoulder, putting the team out of commission for a month and a half. However, the team has made major leaps in the five months since, and will continue to see improvement given the proper funding and coaching they will now have access to due to the Olympic program, according to Leonard.
Morris and Barrows will continue competing together, traveling to Europe in March and April for further events. They will also spend three 10-day blocks in Rio, practicing on the tide cycles that will be present during the Olympics, giving them the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the specific conditions of the Brazilian venue, Barrows said. Leonard added that a plan for preparation put together by the U.S. Olympic program will take into account the need for rest and periodization so the team can maximize its competitive potential.
“It’s been a whirlwind since we qualified, as basically everything in our lives for the past three and a half years has been focused on winning these two events; now that we have that done, there is a lot to catch up on,” Morris said. “The main thing on our mind going into the Olympics [is that] we won’t be anyone’s medal favorite. The fact that the event is in Rio, [which is] a very difficult place to sail, it really plays to [our] strengths. We’re looking forward to going out there and trying to surprise some people.”
The sailing portion of the Olympic Games will commence on Aug. 8.