RIO DE JANEIRO — Caleb Paine wasn’t supposed to be here, standing on the podium accepting an Olympic bronze medal. During the Finn European Championship in March, the final Rio qualifying event for US Sailing, he was lagging 10 points behind Beijing 2008 silver medalist Zach Railey, who looked prime to take his place on his second Olympic team that summer.
In a stunning finish, Paine came from behind to place 24th in the event, with Railey placing 29th. The 25-year-old had made up the point difference and was going to Brazil.
Paine was steadier over the course of his Olympic competition. His worst finish in the opening series, 21st in the third of 10 races, was discarded per Finn scoring rules. Going into the medal race, he was in fourth place with 74 points. Thus, while Great Britain’s Giles Scott had all but locked up gold going into the final race, Paine knew he had a shot at the podium.
“Going into the race we had a game plan, so I was mainly just thinking about executing the plan to the best of my abilities,” Paine said.
His abilities allowed him to take the lead early in the final race and he never relinquished it, remaining in first for each of the four marks of the race. His closest competitor at any point in the final was Brazil’s Jorge Zarif, who rounded the first mark 13 seconds behind him, but Paine widened the margin with each subsequent mark, earning the bronze medal with 76 points behind Scott and Vasilij Zbogar of Slovenia.
Paine should have already known if he would become an Olympian, but the event was postponed due to high wind speeds on Monday. Despite choppy water and a strong breeze again on Tuesday, he prevailed.
Paine started sailing at age 7, sailing a Sabot-class boat in San Diego where he grew up and now lives. He said he was attracted to sailing’s mix of physicality and need for technical knowledge from the beginning.
“I think it’s very multi-tasking,” he said of the sport. “And you’re out on the water, which is one of the amazing things of these Games, being near Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer.”
He decided not to go to a traditional college in order to pursue the Olympic dream, the gamble paying off as he’s now the proud owner of a medal.
“You work so long and hard for something like this,” Paine said. “My parents have been the biggest supporters of me. Being able to represent them, it’s amazing.”