Clearwater Yacht Club Greets Their Olympic Medalist
Olympic medalist Zach Railey introduces his family to cheering supporters. From left to right: his sister, Brooke; mother, Ann; Zach; his father, Dan and sister, Paige.
Of all the excellent parties the venerable Clearwater Yacht Club has given down through the years, the best has got to be the one they gave on Sunday afternoon when they turned out in great numbers to honor one of their own. The welcome home for Olympic silver medalist Zach Railey was exuberant, enthusiastic and pure undiluted joy. He has done the impossible. He has done the incredible. He earned his right to represent the United States in the Finn class sailboat competition in the 2008 Olympics, and brought home a medal, confounding the experts and rejoicing his friends and supporters.
Zach is not a "Johnny come lately," down from the north to practice in our Florida sun. He is one of us, a native, no less, born, educated and raised in Clearwater, Florida. When he was only eight, his mother brought him to the Clearwater Yacht Club where he learned to sail in an Optimist Pram.
"He loved it right away," she says. "From the beginning."
Coming up through the Yacht Club's youth sailing program, Zach moved steadily forward until, this year, at the age of 24, with the full, enthusiastic support of the Yacht Club and its members, he brought home the medal.
Describing the Finn sailboats, Zach explained that they are larger than a Sunfish, weighing 250 pounds, fully rigged.
"For Olympic racing," he said, "the boats' measurements are carefully taken and all must be exactly alike so that the race is all about the sailors' skills and ability, not the size of the boat.
Zach's Olympic competition consisted of 9 races. The competitors' position in each race earns them points that reflect their overall place. Light, five knot winds and a strong current made the first races a test of skill and strategy. When Zach came in second in the first race, ahead of three time medalist Ben Ainslie from Great Britain, he was on his way. By the time they reached the "medal race," the final race of the Finns sailing competition, Zach's points put him in competition for the gold. Weather conditions had changed and, in pouring rain and high winds, he reached the finish line with six other boats in close proximity.
"It was difficult," he says, "trying to keep my eye on all of them as well as the finish line."
One observer likened it to "a chess game played out in the wild and rough conditions on Fusan Bay." Who actually crossed the line in this last race didn't matter as much as where their points positioned them in the overall competition, so Zach had to make sure he stayed ahead of the sailors who had the points to outdo his score.
"Asked what was the biggest challenge he faced in China, Zach replied that it had to be the distractions of all that was going on around him. "It made it difficult to remain focused," he said.
The sailors were staying in a venue outside of Beijing, in an Athlete's Village, built for the Olympics in the bayside town of Qingdao, and destined to become a resort hotel. When their competition was over, they were moved to the Olympic Village in Beijing to participate in the rest of the activities there.
At the Clearwater Yacht Club party on Sunday, Zach was relaxed and enjoying the celebration. Given the microphone, he gave tribute to all the team that had supported and helped him from the beginning, announcing that his coach, Kenneth Andreason, has been chosen to be the coach for the 2012 American Olympic sailors.
For the Clearwater Yacht Club Zach had brought a replica of his silver medal to be displayed in the Yacht Club trophy case. He introduced his family, including his sister, Paige, whose record as a world class sailing competitor includes taking second place at the U.S. trials in the Laser Radial sailboats for the 2008 Olympics.
"We're going to London together," said Zach, adding, "We start tomorrow to train for 2012."
"What about the America's Cup?" asked someone. "After the London Olympics, I will probably go professional," he answered, "and I would like to sail in the America's Cup." No one in the group of celebrants doubted one minute that he would reach that goal.
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