COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Zach Railey has sailed on the sport's biggest stage. His sister, Paige, has come within an eyelash of doing the same. Both know that the bar has been raised, that expectations have been enhanced, that they must bring everything they've got, with little room for error.
"Our goal is to go to the Olympics," Zach said. "And to win Olympic medals."
They're considered favorites for the 2012 London Games, rounded into shape last month during a four-day camp at the Olympic Training Center that prepared them for European races serving as qualifiers for events to determine the 16-person U.S. Olympic team.A 2008 Olympic silver medalist, Zach, 26, of Clearwater, Fla., marked a fifth-place finish Saturday in Finn at a World Cup in Palma, Spain, and Paige, 23, also of Clearwater, took fourth in Laser Radial. World Cup stops this month in Hyeres, France, and next month in Medemblik, Netherlands, also are selections for Olympic qualifiers, a World Cup in June in Weymouth, England, and the world championships in December in Perth, Australia.
Zach is striving to become the first American to claim Olympic gold in Finn, also known as heavyweight dinghy and won by Ben Ainslie of Great Britain in 2004 and 2008. Paige wants to continue the U.S. stranglehold on Laser Radial, referred to as singlehanded and won by Anna Tunnicliffe when the discipline made its Olympic debut in 2008.
Both were put through the rigors at the OTC during a 55-person retreat U.S. Sailing high performance director Kenneth Andreasen jokingly called a "fat camp." Athletes received sailing-specific education and testing, working under Olympic coaches Luther Carpenter and Leandro Spina, along with strength and conditioning coach Chris Herrera, Colorado Springs sports nutritionist Bob Seebohar and chief medical officer Sam Murray.
In 2008, Zach competed at 190 pounds, then he ballooned into the 240s in 2009, and he's now down to 210 -- exactly where he hopes to be going into London, albeit without added muscle in his upper body that should increase his leverage. Paige has gained 16 pounds in the past 1 1/2 years, and she aspires to add five more pounds to her 146-pound frame, that way she will "be able to stay with the smaller girls and keep up with the heavier ones."
"We know what it's going to take to stand on top of the podium in 2012," Zach said, "so you can't ever take that for granted. We know we're going to show up to the Games, and in both of our classes, there will be eight to 12 competitors that can take that away from us, and we've got to make sure that we're better than they are."
Paige said sailing is unique compared to other Olympic sports since athletes are "dealing with elements the wind, the water. Everything is constantly changing. You can sail like half of the race, and then the next half is completely different from the first half. ... What we try to do is try to be consistent throughout all the different types of conditions."
Andreasen dubbed Zach and Paige "in their classes, the best sailors in the world." But he conceded the international field is "extremely competitive. It's very physical. Everybody is in better shape than they've ever been." He added that the U.S. needs to be "the fittest team on the planet." If it's not, he said, "We're not going to win the medals we want."