Walter Cooper/ Us Sailing
Class: Neil Pryde RS:X
US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics: 2001, 2003-2004, 2006-2008
Member of: Davis Island YC/St. Petersburg YC
Education: Lakewood High School, Eckerd College
Birthdate: Dec. 24, 1980
Birthplace: Greenville, Texas
Hometown: Tampa, Fla.
Occupation: Business consultant/marketing and nutrition
Significant sailing achievements: Winning all races of the 2006 US SAILING Pre-Trials
Biography: When Ben Barger returned home to Florida from the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Sailing, he didn't have a handful of friends and family waiting for him at the airport: he had a crowd of 60.
Family and friends from Barger's present and past flocked to Tampa International Airport to cheer home a victory that was particularly sweet for this Tampa Bay sailor.
Four years prior, Barger was primed for the U.S. Trials for the 2004 Games. Early in that quadrennium, he camped out on the doorstep of U.S. Olympic windsurfing medalist Mike Gebhardt-who had dominated men's boardsailing in the U.S. since the late 1980s and whose example had inspired Barger to become an Olympian-hoping to learn from a master in the sport.
Gebhardt coached him for the Trials, but the regatta did not result in a ticket to Athens for Barger: "I came second to Peter Wells, and that was, obviously, heartbreaking."
Barger resolved to try again for 2008. In the interim, Olympic windsurfing made a switch from the Mistral to the Neil Pryde RS:X. But the new equipment was minor compared to what he learned 10 months before the Trials: at age 41, Gebhardt was returning to the Trials for yet another shot at Olympic glory.
At mid-point in the 16-race Trials Barger and Gebhardt were tied in points, but a disastrous collision on the racecourse sealed Barger's fate. His board was damaged but not his resolve.
Barger won the last four races of the regatta to capture the U.S. berth at this winner-takes-all event. Barger considers the 2007 Trials-marked by an intensity he had yet to experience on the water-a turning point in his sailing career.
2007 3rd Kiel Week (Kieler Woche)/Kiel, Germany, 5th XV Pan American Games/Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 22nd US SAILING's Rolex Miami OCR/Miami