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Barger, Railey sail into light air

SPORTS.TAMPABAY.COM . Now and throughout the Olympics, find news updates, previous stories and schedules.

U.S. sailing medal count
Medal Number
Gold 18
Silver 22
Bronze 17
Total 57

2004 medals
Event Medal Athletes
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.

Event Description
Laser Men's one-person dinghy
Laser Radial Women's one-person dinghy
470 Men* Two-person dinghy
470 Women Two-person dinghy
RS:X Men Windsurfing
RS:X Women Windsurfing
Finn Men's heavyweight single-handed dinghy
49er Open double-handed high-performance dinghy
Star Men's keelboat
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."

Floridians rule

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.

Ben Barger

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.

Zach Railey

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."

Florida sailors

Ben Barger

Class: Neil Pryde RS:X

Affiliation: Davis Island and St. Petersburg yacht clubs

College: Eckerd College

Age: 27

Hometown: Tampa

Web site:

Zach Railey

Class: Finn

Affiliation: Clearwater Yacht Club

College: University of Miami

Age: 24

Hometown: Clearwater

Web Site:

Nancy Rios

Class: Neil Pryde RS:X

Affiliation: Banana River Windsurfing Resort

College: Brevard Community College

Age: 20

Hometown: Miami

Web Site:

Anna Tunnicliffe

Class: Laser Radial

Affiliation: North Cape Yacht Club

College: Old Dominion University

Age: 25

Hometown: Plantation

Web Site:

"It happens all the time in the Olympics. For people to get maybe upset or bent out of shape about me is strange."

Becky Hammon, an American who's been criticized for joining Russia's basketball team


The oldest Olympic boat is the Star, a 17-foot, two-handed keelboat that debuted in 1932. It has sailed at every Olympics since except the 1976 Montreal Games.

Barger, Railey sail into light air 08/04/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 6, 2008 9:13pm]
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