David Hughes, foreground center, and Stuart McNay of the United States compete during the men’s 470 sailing race at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

David Hughes has been chasing Olympic sailing dreams for nearly 20 years. This week, the University of Southern Maine graduate will try to finally realize them.

David Hughes

Hughes, who was born in Ithaca, New York, but attended schools in Yarmouth before going to USM, will compete in his second Summer Olympics as a member of the U.S. sailing team. He and his sailing partner Stuart McNay are competing in the men’s 470 class – a two-man dinghy – at the Tokyo Games.

Their competition will begin Wednesday and continue throughout the week, with the medal race on Aug. 4. The races will take place at Enoshima, which is located about 35 miles south of Tokyo’s main Olympic Park.

The 43-year-old Hughes, who graduated from USM in 1999 and now lives in Miami, also competed with McNay in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and finished fourth, the second-best finish among U.S. sailors.

The two earned their spot in the Tokyo Olympics by finishing seventh in the men’s 470 in the 2018 world sailing championships. Their selection to the team was announced in June 2020, though the Olympics were postponed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Most recently, they finished fifth in the 2021 world championships.

When U.S. Sailing announced that Hughes and McNay had been added to the team, Hughes spoke about the challenges of navigating the waters of Enoshima, where the course is located near a marina and often features changing weather conditions. In a story on the Team USA website, he said, “It’s not dissimilar to Brazil in that we were all getting used to one weather pattern and the Olympic Games came and it was totally different,” he said. “It seems every Games we’ve been part of that’s the deal. You just have to be ready for anything.”


This will be Hughes’ fourth trip to the Olympics. He was a training partner in the 2004 Athens Olympics, where the U.S. 470 team won a gold medal. He failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and then coached the U.S. 49er team to a 15th-place finish in the 2012 London Games.

But he wasn’t done sailing yet, and made the 2016 Rio Games team with McNay, who is competing in his fourth Olympic Games.

Hughes began sailing when he was 13. After his family moved to Maine, he became involved in the youth sailing program at the Harraseeket Yacht Club in South Freeport. While at USM, he was a member of the Huskies sailing team his final two seasons, sailing in the A boat his senior year.

He graduated from USM with a degree in American government and later earned his Master’s degree in international relations from the University of Wales. While at USM, he served internships in the U.S. Senate (1996), U.S. House of Representatives (1997) and the White House (1997-98). He was named a Rhodes Scholarship finalist in 1998.

He was also one of Maine’s top sailors. As a youth, he was a four-time international 420 Worlds qualifier and was a seven-time Maine J-24 champion. He is a four-time national champion and six-time North American champion in the 470 class.

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