Since sailing first joined the Olympic program in 1900, the most successful sailing nation has been the United States of America with 59 medals to Great Britain's 50.
Paige Railey in action at Kieler Woche 2011
At the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics the U.S. led the field with seven sailing medals, while Great Britain took home just one bronze.
Heading towards the 2012 London Olympics Great Britain is the strongest sailing nation likely to once again take the most Olympic sailing medals, just as it did in Beijing, Athens and Sydney. Rising up the lists is Australia, second at Beijing 2008 and currently with the world number one ranking in three classes looking like they could take second spot again.
By contrast, the sailing super-power USA has on average ranked fifth over the last three Olympics.
However times are changing says Zach Railey, (Clearwater FL) one of the top U.S. sailors competing at Perth 2011. Railey was the Finn Class Olympic Silver medallist at the Beijing Olympics 2008 and second at the 2009 Finn World Championships. His younger sister Paige, is sailing Laser Radials and just missed out on selection for Beijing but will be in Perth seeking selection for London 2012.
At Perth 2011 a total of 33 U.S. sailors will be competing for Olympic selection and Railey believes new selection criteria and better funding for U.S. Sailing will yield better Olympic results in the future.
Traditionally in the USA Olympic sailing selection has been based on a single U.S. Selection regatta, with virtually no funding for international competition.
Over the years U.S. Olympic sailors were sometimes those who sailed just on the domestic scene and had one great regatta, the Olympic Trials. They were not necessarily hardened by international competition and often failed to reproduce that result at the following Olympic Games.
But funding has been improving and last year U.S. SAILING’s Olympic Sailing Committee announced new selection procedures for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team, with athletes in nine of the ten events qualifying based on their results at two international events - the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta at the 2012 Olympic venue Weymouth and Portland, England and Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships.
Railey said in an interview this week ‘Sailing has changed a lot, certainly in the last 10 years. While the U.S. one off trial system worked for quite a long time, now the sailing scene is so professional and everyone is travelling around the world. If you are very serious about performing at the Olympics you are going to go out and do all these international events.’
‘The change in U.S. selection criteria and better funding has meant that there is now a much bigger group of U.S. sailors competing on the international scene and that in time will yield results.
‘Perth 2011 is a vitally important regatta for everybody. About 75% of the country qualifiers and athlete selection will be based on results at Perth 2011.
‘Most federations put a very strong emphasis on performance at the World Championships and that can determine how much money is coming into the bank for 2012 to help support the campaign, so there is a lot of pressure at every level.’
‘The funding progress that U.S. SAILING has made over the 10 years, I don’t think, has been equalled by any other sailing federation in the world. Ten years ago we used to get $2,500 for the entire year.
‘No, we are currently not getting as much money as the British or the Australian team, but we are making progress.
‘Potential U.S. Olympic sailors are getting more support than before and literally thousands of people have helped make that happen. We have some great team sponsors who are now behind us. A lot of credit goes to US SAILING for what they have done.’
While it could take another cycle, with more competition and more funding expect to see the U.S. SAILING team again climb the rankings. One thing is for certain that the competition between the various U.S. crew for the Olympic place will be fierce.
The USTAG Team for Perth 2011
RS:X MEN: Bob Willis, Ben Barger
RS:X WOMEN: Farrah Hall
LASER: Clay Johnson, Rob Crane, Derick Vranizan (Development Team) and USA sailor Brad Funk (not on USSTAG, but member of Olympic Test Event team)
LASER RADIAL: Paige Railey, Erika Reineke
FINN: Zach Railey, Caleb Paine
470 MEN: Stu McNay/Graham Biehl, Adam Roberts/Nick Martin
470 WOMEN: Erin Maxwell/Isabelle Kinsolving Farrar, Amanda Clark/Sarah Lihan
49ER: Erik Storck/Trevor Moore
STAR: Mark Mendelblatt/Brian Fatih, George Szabo/Mark Strube, Andrew Campbell/Ian Coleman
WOMEN'S MATCH RACING: To be decided at 2011 Womens Match Racing Qualifying Regatta, October 26-30. It is likely that two teams; Sally Barkow, Alana O'Reilly and Elizabeth Kratzig Burnham and Anna Tunnicliffe, Deb Capozzi and Molly Vandemoer will represent the USA in Perth.
Paige Railey in action at Kieler Woche 2011