After being shut out at the 2012 Olympic regatta in Weymouth, England, the U.S. Olympic Sailing Team had nowhere to go but up at the recent 2016 Games in Rio. And while it still has a way to go to catch up to such powerhouses as Great Britain (which took two golds and a silver) or Australia (which took one gold and three silvers), the team definitely seemed to turn the corner, with top-10 finishes in six of 10 classes and a bronze medal going to U.S. sailor Caleb Paine in the hyper-competitive Finn, heavyweight dinghy class.
Paine’s podium performance, in particular, was a dramatic one—coming from behind in the final race thanks to a savvy call on a wind shift midway through the first beat, to win the race outright and vault himself into third overall. We spoke with Paine a few days after the regatta to see how it felt having an Olympic medal to add to his trophy collection.
SAIL: What’s it like competing at the Olympic level compared to the many other regattas you’ve been in?
Caleb Paine: It’s not like any other event. You can tell the whole world is watching. Everyone also brings their A-game, everyone has their equipment tuned for the venue, so it’s difficult if you ever get a deep score. The points are always so close all through the event. There were a couple of mark roundings where the entire fleet seemed to round at the same time.
SAIL: Describe how you found that shift on the first beat of the medal race.
CP: U.S. Finn coach Luther Carpenter and I came up with a game plan going into the medal race, and it was commit and don’t look back. The medal race is 20 minutes shorter than a typical Finn race, and because of this we had a different strategy on how to plan for it. I came off the line on the boat end with a decent start. I intended to go left, but about a minute off the start I looked up the course and saw a strong wind line off to the right side of the course. I tacked and ducked Giles Scott (the UK sailor who won gold at Rio) and didn’t look back. If it was a larger course, I would have stayed with the fleet after the first shift. But my goal was to win the race, so I did everything that would get me closer to that goal.
SAIL: How do you feel about the current state of the U.S. team and where it’s headed with regard to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo?
CP: I think the team is on a great path with lots of young sailors. I truly believe the team is heading in the right direction, and it’s really promising for the future. The ability to do what we did with what we have is truly amazing. We had a huge medal-race presence with almost all first-time Games goers. The team is in great place looking forward, and I would be watching out for the U.S. Sailing Team come 2020.
SAIL: What are you plans now, with the Rio Olympics behind you?
CP: I have no idea! That’s kind of what I’m figuring out. I’d like to do some professional sailing. I may also try for Tokyo. I don’t really know. I’ll be figuring that out in the next couple of months! s
For complete coverage of the 2016 Olympic Regatta, including video and analysis on a day-to-day basis, go to sailmagazine.com/racing.—AC
Photos courtesy of Daniel Forster/Us Sailing Team