Caleb Paine has won the US Finn selection trials for this summer’s Olympics after a last race showdown at the European Championships in Barcelona, Spain, which ended on Saturday. Still reeling from a drama filled Friday in which his main rival Zach Railey exploited match racing tactics to push him down the fleet, Paine put on the best show on Saturday to win the selection by 26 points.
Railey’s tactics on Friday had turned a 10 point deficit into a 10 point advantage going into Saturday’s only race. He expertly laid a mark trap at the final mark in the second race of the day, and held up Paine while around 50 boats sailed past. This meant they both counted their worst result. Paine’s was 20 points worse that Railey’s. It was a risky manoeuvre by Railey, but expertly executed. However he also broke another rule in the process, Paine protested, and the jury later disqualified him. But the 10 point lead remained intact.
Paine said, “Zach needed to put some points on me, but I had caught up quite a bit on the second upwind, so it was an opportunity for him. You try manage those situations the best you can. You know it’s going to be 50/50 in a protest room, but you stick with your training and you know what the rules are.”
Despite the almost unbearable pressure and the consequences of the hearing the sailors were both commended by the jury for their conduct and good behaviour in the room.
Railey had built a 20 boat lead on Paine on the first leg, but that all changed on the second upwind when Railey lost and Paine gained. Railey was left with little option if he wanted to save the selection series. “There’s an opinion out that there maybe it shouldn’t be happening in a fleet race, but at the Olympic level it’s very much an accepted part of the sport. It’s not a bad thing. The reality is that it is a very well accepted tactic of the sport. I’ve never had a problem with it and I don’t think anyone here will have a issue with it.”
In the decider on Saturday, Paine was never threatened, rounding the first mark second before going on to finish seventh to Railey’s 44th. While many were expecting fireworks, it was all over without much of a fight. Railey explained, “I was trying to get Caleb to have a bad start. He tacked and went behind a few boats and I thought I was in a pretty good spot half way up and then the wind died and the pressure just stayed on the right. There was no way back from there, but that’s sailboat racing.”
He paid credit to Paine, “Caleb is sailing very well. I think a lot of people didn’t give him due respect as a sailor. It was incredibly hard for me to catch back up to where he is. I think people are underestimating him. I said that before I came back.”
Railey says this is the end of his Olympic career. “I have hung my boots on the top of my mast. I’m done. You never want it to end, but I’ll be 36 at the next Games. I’m an old man and it’s time to move on. On Monday I will be back in the office.”
Paine added, “Zach and I had actually been training together quite a bit. I have been training with him and he’s been a great mentor. He was the best guy in the country and probably one of the best in the world, and still is, so I feel fortunate to have come out on top this time. I’d love to go sailing with him again if he wants to.”
For Paine, going to Rio is a dream come true. “It’s something I have dreamed about ever since I was a child and it’s quite emotional to say that I’ve done it.”
US placings were Paine (24th), Railey (29th), Sprague (55th), Muller (57), Toth (58th), Heimler (87th).
The European title went, for the first time, to Pieter-Jan Postma from the Netherlands. Zsombor Berecz from Hungary took the silver and Milan Vujasinovic from Croatia took the bronze. All are hoping to be in Rio to line up against Paine this August.