Light winds and costly decisions were the order of the day on the first day of the American Finn trials at the European Championships in Barcelona as Zach Railey overcame the challenging conditions to take the early advantage in the series, the second of two events to decide the US selection for Rio.
Railey was buoyed by his day. “I was just trying to get through the day without anything catastrophic during the races. It was very difficult with the velocity being so up and down and big gains and losses on the race course,” he says. Railey recovered in the first race from 45th to finish 24th.
His main competition this week, Caleb Paine, rounded the top mark well up the fleet, but paid the price of a wrong strategy on the second upwind to finish 58th. Clearly unhappy with his performance, Paine says, “I just hit the left side and it was not good. That’s what drops are for I suppose.”
The top American for most of the race was Phil Toth, but he came to shore to find he had collected a Black Flag disqualification. Current US standings are Zach Railey (24), Henry Sprague (26), Caleb Paine (58), Luke Muller (64), Charles Hemler (81), Phil Toth (90).
The second race was looking good with Paine in first and Railey in third just before the top mark when the dying wind forced the race organizers to abandon. Railey says, “I think they made a good call. I think it would have got pretty crazy with the breeze. It shut off soon after we went round the mark.”
Railey has nothing to lose this week. “For me it’s a great situation,” says Railey. “If I qualify then I keep going. If I don’t qualify then I get on a plane and I go back to my business at home. I bought a one way ticket to Europe.” If he succeeds this week he moves onto Palma and if not, then he gets dropped at the airport to go back to his former life. “I’ve always wanted to come back sailing,” he says. “I love sailing and I miss sailing. But I also had to ask myself what I was going to do professionally after the last Olympics and it’s very hard for me.”
Railey has already been to two Olympics. Paine has dedicated his life to take part in his first. “I have been training for this for a long time and it’s been a passion of mine for five years now. This is what we are all here for. We’re here to compete, to train and try and win a gold at the Olympics. It’s exciting and we will keep it going right down to the wire, and we’ll see how it turns out at the end.”
The current championship leader is Milan Vujasinovic from Croatia who will be into his own Olympic trials soon against defending European Champion Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic. The 2012 European Champions Ioannis Mitakis from Greece in second and 2012 Olympic Silver medalist Jonas Høgh-Christensen from Denmark in third, have already booked their tickets to Rio this August.