USA Finn sailor Zach Railey sailed a smashing opener on the first day of the Olympic Sailing Regatta in Qingdao, China. In strong current and patchy winds averaging five knots, Railey pulled off a second and a fifth place in today’s two races, putting him in second place overall in this 26-boat Olympic fleet.
Railey’s most impressive move today was on the final run of the first race, when he passed thirteen boats. After rounding a minute and nine seconds behind the first place boat on the last leg, he shaved almost the whole gap, finishing only five seconds behind Greek sailor Emilios Papathanasiou. On a day with inverting fleets and frequent lead changes, Railey’s consistency between the two races is what brings him to the top of the fleet. He currently sits two points behind Rafal Szukiel of Poland and four points ahead of three-time Olympic medalist Ben Ainslie of Great Britain.
Today’s racing saw fighting thermal and the gradient winds, meaning reading and predicting the shifts were increasingly difficult throughout the day. Finding the puffs of wind on the course was a key to success. Railey said, 'It was a pressure day.' He certainly found the pressure in the first race to make his big pass. He admits, 'That was a little bit of luck, but I’ll take it!'
As a dark horse in the fleet, Railey kept a level head at the end of the day. He said, 'This is a great start, but it’s a long regatta.' Railey was all nerves this morning as he marched into the boat park with his headphones in, his head down and his coach Kenneth Andreasen running interference. Railey said that on the downwinds he had to remind himself to 'take deep breaths and try to relax.' He has set high goals for himself and knows it will be a challenge in this fleet, but he also remembers to take in those unique Olympic moments. 'Past Olympians have told me to really enjoy this experience. I take that to heart.' Railey must have enjoyed the swarm of twenty journalists and photographers as he hit the dock.
In first race of the Yngling class, medal favorites Sally Barkow, Carrie Howe and Debbie Capozzi sailed into a hole on the last lap and finished 14th out of 15 boats, though they had been second to the first leeward gate. This type of day could bring some sailors to hopeless frustration, but a cheery Howe explained they are confident in their talent and they have coaches and friends constantly telling them it’s going to be alright. This team has multiple world championship wins under their belts, and they know they are capable of major event wins.
Railey was on the good side of a big fleet inversion, while the Yngling girls caught the unlucky side, but the principle is the same and today was incredibly hard for everyone. Howe explained, 'You couldn’t just go by rules of thumb because it was always changing. We had to make pretty big decisions, and not all of them were right.' Though Howe said she started to get nervous just in the prestart of the first race, she has kept a very cool head throughout the lead up to the event, as have Barkow and Capozzi. The three women are known for their composure and are strong, silent types. They currently sit in ninth place out of fifteen Ynglings, but their presence should become louder over the next eight races.
Two races are scheduled for tomorrow for the Finn and Yngling. The 49er class begins the event tomorrow as well, and have three races scheduled.
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About the United States Olympic Team for Sailing
The athletes of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Team are selected, trained, and managed by US SAILING, national governing body for the sport of sailing. The top three athletes in each Olympic and Paralympic class are part of the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics. Founded in 1897 and headquartered in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, the organization provides leadership for the sport of sailing in the United States. For more information about the athletes of the U.S. Olympic Team for Sailing, please visit www.ussailing.org