SPORTS.TAMPABAY.COM . Now and throughout the Olympics, find news updates, previous stories and schedules.
|U.S. sailing medal count|
|470 Men||Gold||Paul Foerster and Kevin Burnham|
|Tornado||Silver||John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree|
|The Classes: A brief history
The first event for only women debuted in 1988. Before that women competed with men. Beijing will have competition in 11 events.
|Laser||Men's one-person dinghy|
|Laser Radial||Women's one-person dinghy|
|470 Men*||Two-person dinghy|
|470 Women||Two-person dinghy|
|Finn||Men's heavyweight single-handed dinghy|
|49er||Open double-handed high-performance dinghy|
|Tornado||Open double-handed multihull|
|Yingling||Women's triple-handed keelboat|
|* The number refers to the length in centimeters of the single-hull, three-sail vessel.|
The Olympics are the ultimate test of sailing skill. Athletes compete in identical, "one-design boats," built of the same material to precise specifications, so the top skipper and/or crew, not the team with the most money, wins in the end.
But at this year's Summer Games, which start Friday, the waters off Qingdao, China, will be particularly challenging, even for veteran sailors.
"The conditions there are not ideal," said U.S. windsurfer Ben Barger, who has lost weight in an effort to be more competitive in the light air. "The venue was picked more for political reasons than for the wind."
Barger, a 27-year-old St. Petersburg native who lives in Tampa, isn't the only sailor worried about the wind.
"It is going to be difficult," said Zach Railey, a 24-year-old from Clearwater who is representing the United States in the Finn class. "I have been working hard to drop weight. I was pretty lean at 215. But I am hoping that by the time the racing starts, I will be under 200 pounds."
The International Sailing Federation has selected nine one-design classes for the 11 Olympic sailing events to be held in Qingdao, a coastal city about 340 miles southeast of the main action in Beijing.
The sport made its Olympic debut in 1900, four years after the first modern Games in Athens, Greece. Since then, the United States has been an Olympic powerhouse; only Great Britain has won more medals.
In 2008, Floridians will lead the way, representing the United States in four of the 11 events. In addition to Railey and Barger, the team includes Nancy Rios, a Miami board sailor, and Anna Tunnicliffe, a Fort Lauderdale resident who sails the Laser Radial.
The women are trying to follow in the footsteps of St. Petersburg native Allison Jolly, who at the 1988 Seoul Olympics won the first women's gold medal in the 470, a two-person dinghy. In 1992, two more women's events were added, windsurfing and the single-handed dinghy.
Barger grew up sailing the waters off Tierra Verde, which during the winter months is considered one of the best windsurfing spots in the United States.
"Growing up, I spent a lot of time on the water," he said. "It seemed like that was all I ever did every day after school."
Barger said the key to his success is a sound mind and body.
"You have to be in top shape," he said. "But you also have to master the skills and the tactics. The difference between winning and losing is knowing when to make your move."
A business consultant in Web marketing and nutrition, Barger trains like a triathlete. "You have to be strong in relation to your body weight, but you also have to be able to go the distance," he said.
Railey, and his younger sister, Paige, who narrowly missed an Olympic berth in the Laser class, grew up in a veritable playground for water sports enthusiasts.
"I didn't care what it was, as long as I was on the water, I was happy," Zach said.
He was a competitive sailor at age 8, and at 11 he became the youngest sailor to compete in the Optimist World Championships.
Later he switched to Lasers but eventually got too big for the one-person dinghy. "I was 6-4 and about 20 pounds too heavy for the class," he said. "So I switched to the Finn in 2004."
A physically demanding boat, the Finn is ideally suited to Railey's size and strength. With only one year of experience, he placed second at the 2005 Finn North Americans in Clearwater.
At the Olympic trials in California, Railey went up against a slew of more seasoned competitors.
"I went into it doing everything I could to win," he said. "It is more than sailing. I worked on everything … cardio, strength and nutrition. In the end, I think it paid off."