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Battle for the Berth

Three US sailors break the top ten of the Finn fleet at the Sailing World Cup Miami. With Olympic trials on the line, this is high-stakes sailing.

January 28, 2016
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In the Finn, a class regularly dominated by veterans, three American sailors have made their mark at the Sailing World Cup Miami by remaining in the top ten halfway through the regatta. The finals will not only decide the regatta champion but is also one of two selection events that will determine who represents the United States at the Rio Olympics in August.

Caleb Paine, who was a member of the US Sailing Development Team from 2009-2010 and has been on the US Sailing Team Sperry since 2011, is currently first in the fleet, leading China’s Lei Gong by one point. “I think I definitely have a bit more focus on this event than I did the last when I was treating it more of a learning experience,” says Paine. “I’m understanding how everything works and what sort of processes needed to take place in order to succeed. Now it’s just a matter of putting all those pieces together and being able to perform out on the water.”

Paine has been the most consistent in the fleet, scoring 4-3-3 in the second day of racing. “I still could improve on my starting out there, but for the most part it was all about just keeping your lane wide open and being able to make tacks and have the ability to make the right decisions instead of other people dictating it,” says Paine.

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Zach Railey, who came out of “retirement” from Olympic sailing at the Finn Gold Cup in October, has posted erratic scores in Miami, with two bullets alternated with a 13th and 15th place finish. “The first race of the regatta was a really difficult race, really big shifts, and I just wanted to get a solid result out of that one,” said Railey in a release from World Sailing. “I probably sailed too conservative, but I was OK with a 13th. “The second race, I thought the right side was going to come in, and we were looking OK about halfway up the first beat. There was a 20-degree left shift with pressure. I just never made it out of the right side and rounded [in the bottom half of the fleet] at the first mark and caught back up as much as I could. That’s just part of sailboat racing.”

Then, there’s Luke Muller, the 19-year-old who balances his Finn campaign with college at Stanford University, is on the US Sailing Development team, and is currently surprising many by sitting in tenth place overall.

Muller says he’s using this event, like any other, as an opportunity to make observations of himself and the rest of the fleet, and regularly trains with class veterans, including Railey. “He’s an open book,” says Muller of Railey. “He’s given me a lot of tips on tuning and technique—things that you only learn from sailing this boat for a long time. He yells at me to hike all the time. He’s trying to push me and he knows he can light my fire.”

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This is Muller’s second year sailing the Finn, after he switched from the Laser. His goal is to sail for the US Sailing Team in Tokyo 2020, but if he improves his scores over Railey and Paine at both this event and the Finn Europeans in Barcelona, Spain in March, he’ll be looking at an Olympic appearance earlier than planned. “I am being realistic that this, right now, is my journey to understand how the trials work,” says Muller, “but any competitor who says they just go out for a learning experience isn’t truly a competitor…I do want to go [to the Olympics this year].”

As the scores stand in Miami, the American Finn spot is Paine’s to lose. He has continued to lead the domestic fleet, even after Railey’s return. Even so, Muller’s surprisingly strong performance will be a factor to watch in the finals.

To follow the last three days of racing and for full results, visit http://miami.ussailing.org.

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Zach Railey, Beijing 2008 silver medalist, came out of Olympic sailing “retirement” at the Finn Gold Cup in October 2015. In a release from US Sailing Team Sperry, Railey said it has been a difficult but enjoyable task to get ready for the Olympic selection events. “I’ve been back in boat for five months, and am now back to the right weight for the boat. I’m training with friends and enjoying it. In the last two months I’ve improved a lot, and that should only continue over the next six weeks [until the second selection event in Barcelona, Spain].” Pedro Martinez/Sailing Energy/World Sailing
Relatively new to the class, Luke Muller is focusing on nailing the basics. “I don’t know a lot about this boat, but I’m trying to nail the things that I do know and keep everything else really simple,” he says.
Caleb Pain currently leads the American Finn sailors, but is ever-reflective on his performance. “[Wednesday] was a big day, because who knows if we’re going to be able to sail over the next two days,” said Paine in a US Sailing Team Sperry release. “The forecast for the rest of the week is a bit crazy, with possible storms. In terms of my racing, the starts need to be improved. With better starts, I might have had a chance to win all three races today.”
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