Zach Railey said competing at the Olympic level is no different from sealing a high-stakes business deal.
"Just imagine that you spend your whole life studying economics, from the time you were 8 all the way through college, preparing yourself for one big deal," the Clearwater sailor, 28, said. "Then finally, one day you find yourself in that board room, ready to make your pitch, and you only got one chance. Make one mistake and you're done. You might never get another chance."
But Railey is more disciplined and determined — and maybe luckier — than most. He is getting a second chance. At the 2008 Olympics, sailing in the Finn class for the United States, he ended up with the silver medal. Back at the Games this year, he said he is more experienced and has no illusions about what it takes to be the world's best.
"I never stopped training," this year's U.S. Olympic sailing team captain said. "I feel like I am in great shape, both physically and mentally."
Railey, whose younger sister, Paige, makes her Olympic sailing debut this year, is a natural leader who has earned the respect of his teammates and competitors.
He was picked U.S. Sailing's Sportsman of the Year three years in a row ('08, '09, '10). He has won three U.S. Finn championships ('09, '10, '11) and won the 2012 Olympic Class Regatta at the Sailing World Cup in Miami.
Railey's boat, the Finn, is a single-handed heavy-weight dinghy, one of the most physically demanding boats in Olympic competition.
"I've always prepared myself based on what kind of wind I'll be sailing in," said Railey, whose weight fluctuates between 185 and 220 pounds, depending on the venue.
"In China, there was no wind (on the Olympic course off Qingdao on the Yellow Sea), so I had to be as light as possible. But (for the 2012 course) in Weymouth (a coastal city about 110 miles southwest of London) there's a lot of wind, so it will help to be a little heavier."
Railey said the sailing team's physical trainers work him hard and accept no excuses.
"They are pretty blunt — you might even say ruthless — when it comes to weight," he said. "They are not afraid to tell you where you need to be. We are basically just cattle. They have no problem telling you that you look soft. Our job is to work out and sail."
Brother keeps Paige prepared, grounded
Paige Railey, 25, already has benefited from her brother's Olympic experience. "He has been a huge help," she said. "He has told me what to expect, and I think that's one reason why I am better prepared."
Paige's sailing resume is almost as long as that of her brother's. Both began sailing as youngsters at the Clearwater Yacht Club.
She was always something of a girl wonder, winning regatta after regatta, and then in 2006, at 19, she became the one of the most celebrated female sailors in the world when she won U.S. Sailing's Yachtswoman of the Year award and the international sailing federation's World Sailor of the Year award.
Paige proved she could compete on the international stage in 2007 when she won a gold medal in the Laser Radial class at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro.
She followed up with another first-place finish at the 2008 Olympic Class Regatta in Miami and then spent most of that year focusing on her studies at USF.
"Getting college educations was something that we both promised ourselves and our families," said Zach, who went to Miami. "We both know that there has to be a Plan B."
Paige's boat of choice, the Laser, is a one-design class, meaning that every hull, regardless of where it is manufactured or sailed, must be the same size and weight.
The boat can be equipped with three different rigs, making it available to sailors of all ages and skill levels, and as a result, it's one of the most popular and competitive classes in the world. "It is a really tough class, especially at this level," Paige said.
Both Raileys spent time training in England before coming home for a few weeks before heading back for the Games.
"The pressure is just enormous," Paige said. "I have seen people that I have competed with for years just fall apart. Sailing is really a mental game."
She said having her brother with her training at the Olympic sailing facility in Weymouth has helped keep her grounded. "He still steals my food all the time," she said. "It is just like being at home."
Veteran Mendelblatt ready for skill battle
He doesn't have a website. He isn't on Twitter. And good luck trying to call his cellphone.
"It doesn't always work," Mark Mendelblatt said, and he doesn't much care. The 39-year-old professional sailor from St. Petersburg spends most of his time on the water, where the only communication that really matters is that between a skipper and crew.
"I've been there before," said Mendelblatt, one of the hardest-working sailors in the sport, of the Olympics. He was on the 2004 team.
"It will be tough, a lot of talent, but hey … that's the Olympics."
Mendelblatt, who got his start at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, took third in the Laser class at the 1996 Olympic trials in Savannah, Ga., and three years later captured a silver medal at the Pan American Games.
A three-time All-American at Tufts, Mendelblatt stuck with the Laser (taking some time off to work on the first of two America's Cup campaigns), and at the 2004 Olympics in Athens he finished eighth.
"The America's Cup and the Olympics are the two biggest sailing events in the world," he said. "But they are totally different. The first, you spend years in development. … It is all about design. But in the Olympics, all the boats are the same. So it is really a true matchup of sailing skill."
After 2004, Mendelblatt turned his attention to the Star, a two-person keelboat. "The Laser is a young man's boat," he said. "Star is a boat for bigger guys. You can be any age and still compete."
Mendelblatt, the skipper, is teamed with Brian Fatih of Miami. Both live and train in South Florida.
"Weymouth is kind of cold and nasty," Mendelblatt said. "But the weather has been so bad that I think that when the Olympics roll around, it will be probably nice and warm."
But Mendelblatt will feel at home. His wife, Carolina, is a windsurfer on Portugal's Olympic team. She competed in the 2004 Games, too.
With the Star class being dropped from Olympic competition after 2012, the two have talked about racing a new, open multihull class in 2016.
"Sailing is one of those sports that you can be competitive at for your whole life, or at least through your 40s and 50s," Mendelblatt said. "Who knows. I might have another run or two in me."