Dean Barker made America's Cup history when he helmed NZL60 to victory in the final race of Team New Zealand's 5-0 "blackwash" over challenger Prada 2000. At 26 he was the youngest sailor ever to skipper an America's Cup yacht to victory.
Since then his America's Cup career has been something of a rollercoaster ride, having skippered Team New Zealand in their disastrous 2003 Cup defence before leading a rebuilt team to victory in the 2007 Louis Vuitton challenger series. But Barker fell short in his bid to bring the America's Cup back to New Zealand, going down to Alinghi 5-2 in the final.
With the America's Cup stuck in an on-going court battle between Cup-holders Alinghi and Larry Ellison's Oracle, Barker has been building his sailing experience, with wins on the TP52 and RC44 circuits. Back home, he won the National Keelboat Championships and last week won his fifth New Zealand Match-racing title.
He now has his sights set on leading Team New Zealand to victory in the inaugural Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in Auckland early next year.
What inspired you to embark on a career in sport?
I never really dreamed it was going to be a career. I came through the junior ranks and the first real international competition I did was when I was 17. I went to the World Youth Championships in Holland and that was my first real exposure to international sailing and I really enjoyed that and decided then that I wanted to keep going with the racing.
I did all I could to keep going and competing internationally and getting all the experience that way, it wasn't until really when I got involved with Team New Zealand in 1996 that I was able to actually start making a little bit of money, or enough money to survive on. And really from there doors began to sort of open up a little in terms of making it a career.
When you were 13 years old, what sport did you fancy yourself as a future star in?
I was pretty hopeless at everything else. I played soccer when I was young and had a little go at rugby at school, but I was hopeless. There was never a future in any of those sports.
Describe your job
Effectively I lead the sailing team and skipper the race boat and try to create direction for the sailing team in what we do. I just have to keep working and try to be the best I possibly can be at my job and that means doing match-racing events and fleet racing and just trying to become a better sailor with a better understanding of all facets: design, leadership, campaign management and that sort of thing.
I work closely with Grant Dalton and Kevin Shoebridge in the direction of the team and deciding how it all comes together.
What is the best thing about your job?
The best thing is that I get to go and race. I think the thrill of racing is what drives me more than anything.
And the worst...
I think the worst thing is the frustration of not achieving everything we want to achieve. To get so close to a result, but not actually get a result is pretty tough. This is a case in point, we're sitting here, having come very close in Valencia in 2007. If we had a different result we would have been back racing America's Cup, so the frustration of not being successful is the worst thing.
How much control do you have over whether your team wins or loses?
We're involved with working with the designers in trying to build the boat we need to be successful. The organisation relies heavily on all the different components doing their job equally as well. You don't want to be the part of the team that is perceived as the weakness.
There's a huge amount of pressure on us to perform because sailing is not a sport where it's just about speed and technology, it's still about being able to race better than the opposition.
Do you feel your sport and your team get the amount of public attention they deserve?
In 2007 I think while the team were very disappointed with the result, to not actually go all the way and win the cup, I think the way the public got in behind and supported the team again was very satisfying for a lot of people. So I think the team has a fantastic following from the public and we value that incredibly highly.
Does rugby get too much attention in New Zealand?
Well it's perceived as a national sport and the All Blacks are very dominant. I think like us they're still working very hard to achieve their ultimate goal in actually winning a World Cup again. I guess in a way we're actually quite similar because we're both pursuing the elusive prize. But they're fortunate in that they can continually play test matches each year with Tri-Nations and things whereas we're in more of a cyclical environment where it's sort of three or four years - but who knows how long at the moment with all the court stuff going on.
What are the proudest achievements of your sporting life?
The proudest achievement I think for me has been winning the Louis Vuitton Cup. Because being involved in a team that was so far down and out after 2003 to be involved in almost a complete rebuild - working with Grant and Kevin and other people in the team and to be as successful as we were there - was really satisfying. In some ways it was overshadowed by the inability to win the America's Cup straight after.
Winning the fifth race of the America's Cup in 2000 was pretty special, but to be more actively involved with winning the Louis Vuitton Cup probably surpasses that.
And what's your worst moment?
Without question the 2003 campaign. We felt we had put so much into it and for it to come tumbling around our ears was terrible.
What's the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire?
Without question it's to bring the America's Cup back to New Zealand and having been so close in 2007 I think the hunger is there more than ever to do it at the next opportunity, because we don't want to sit through a period like this again, where the cup is completely in limbo.
If you weren't a sailor what would you be doing?
It's pretty hard to say. When I was going through school and studying at AUT my focus was very much on economics and accounting so I'd definitely be in some sort of business environment I think. I have no idea what it would be, but that was always my focus when I was at school and what I enjoyed.
Who in the world do you admire most and why?
I have a huge amount of admiration for what Sir Ed did, and he's a huge amount of inspiration for all New Zealanders. Someone who is still alive that I really admire is Grant Dalton, the way he has been able pull together a campaign in very difficult circumstances and his style of leadership is infectious on the guys around him.
Who is the most inspirational coach in sport?
We had both Robbie Deans and Graham Henry come and speak to the team before going to Valencia in 2006 and I'd almost say they were both as inspirational as each other. They both had very different styles and beliefs and ways of working. I think we learned so much from talking to both of those guys and I'd almost rate them equally. They both had fantastic ideas and just reinforced what we were doing.
What's your favourite sailing venue?
I always love sailing in Hawaii. They have beautiful trade winds and nice waves and a great climate. It's always pretty special racing here in Auckland as well, it's nice to race at home.
Barker invited by Russell Coutts to train with Team New Zealand in San Diego.
Became a permanent member of Team NZ for their Cup defence in Auckland. Barker's skill as a match racer rapidly developed and he became skipper of the "B Boat" during in-house racing. Team NZ went on to successfully defend the 2000 Cup 5-0, with Coutts relinquishing his normal role at the helm to Barker in the last race.
After a raft of defections following the 2000 Cup defence, Barker was promoted to skipper for Team NZ's disastrous 2003 campaign, in which they lost 5-0.
Represented New Zealand at the Athens Olympics, finishing 13th in the Finn class.
Led Team NZ to victory in the Louis Vuitton Cup in Valencia, earning the right to challenge Alinghi for the America's Cup. But the Swiss syndicate retained the Cup after beating Team NZ 5-2 in the final series.