The midpoint between the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and the Beijing Games in 2008 is an appropriate time to assess the U.S. Sailing Team's progress. And as you'd expect, two years out from the Games, competition in all 11 classes is ramping up worldwide as sailors vie for the top spots in their respective class rankings and step up their fundraising effort. To give a sense of how competitive Olympic sailing has become, consider that in Athens 21 countries won at least one of 33 available medals.It's certainly difficult to excel at the Games, especially when many countries are now supporting their athletes with unprecedented funding. In contrast, most American sailors must support themselves, relying on scarce funding sources. It's a daunting task to simultaneously train, compete, and search for money.Reviewing past results of every Olympic class, it's clear that winning a medal often requires more than one attempt. Olympic champions spend decades developing their skills, but in the United States, the Olympic classes-with the exception of the Laser, and to a lesser extent, the Star, have virtually no presence. In addition, the Olympic racing format is rarely used by yacht clubs or other classes.So what are we to do to foster the Olympic experience among more U.S. sailors? I've long believed our collegiate sailing programs develop many of America's top sailors, and this is supported by the fact that in the past six Olympic Games, from 1984 to 2004, 32 of 69 Olympians were college All-Americans.This is because there is no better avenue than college sailing for our sailors to develop tactics and boathandling. Competitors rotate boats after every one or two races, and sail as many as 18 races every weekend in the spring and fall. As a result, Americans are the best in the world at close-quarters maneuvering, starts, and understanding the rules. The downside to this, of course, is that U.S. sailors struggle with long courses, developing boatspeed, and competing at the international level. At this year's Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association Spring Championships in Charleston, S.C., I witnessed the closest racing I'd ever seen in college sailing. The team race and dinghy events were decided in the final race, the skill level was incredible, and good sportsmanship was displayed on and off the water. I'm hopeful these sailors will represent the U.S. internationally in the coming years, but the unfortunate reality is that they won't because, as ICSA president Mitch Brindley tells me, many of them leave the sport after graduation. "For many sailors," he says, "the collegiate experience will be the pinnacle of their sailing lives."A few collegiate sailors will move on to professional sailing, but the opportunities are rare. Only seven Americans competed in the Volvo Ocean Race, and at last count, less than 30 were on the sailing rosters of America's Cup teams. The best and most accessible arena for our top young sailors who want to continue at a high level is, therefore, the Olympics. Strong performances at the Games build pride at home, respect internationally, raise the skill level across all classes, inspire our youth, and earn attention for sailing.Under Olympic Sailing Committee Chairman Dean Brenner and US SAILING director Charlie Leighton, $1.5million has been raised to support the Olympic effort over the past year. These funds have been donated by individuals. It is a start, but more help is needed to give the athletes the backing they need to acquire more international experience.Looking forward, the Olympic Sailing Committee is working to recognize and develop young sailors for future Games. This effort should be supported at the yacht club and sailing association level; supporting a promising sailor and bidding to host major international events. These events expose sailors and supporters to the caliber of big-fleet international competition, and when there's a big regatta in town, participation in that class, or classes, will increase. I encourage race committees to study the Olympic regatta format and replicate the system. More sailors will become familiar with it, and in the long term America's Olympic chances will improve.There are many priorities the OSC must balance. One question that persists is whether to fund classes with the best medal prospects or to focus on areas where the United States is weak. The parent U.S. Olympic Committee demands that funds it allocates be spent on the best medal hopefuls. Strong results in world championships carry considerable weight, and consequently, classes without strong support have the most difficulty developing sailors. This is where individuals and clubs can help improve our medal chances.