Scott Steele was on his parents' sailboat during a Wednesday night race off Annapolis in 1976 when his attention was momentarily diverted.
"There was a guy on a wind surfer," Steele said, "going twice as fast as we were in a large sailboat."
Intrigued, Steele said he and his older brother Ron tracked down the windsurfer, who happened to be Ken Winner, then the national champion. Ron bought a board from Winner, learned to sail it and then taught Scott.
Two years later, Scott Steele entered his first competition. In the 1984 Olympics, he won a silver medal in board sailing, more commonly known as windsurfing, the first time the sport was included on the Games' agenda.
"It is surprising that a sport only 15 years old would be included in the Olympics so soon," Steele said. "It's a growing sport, especially in Europe, and Olympic officials wanted another sailing class."
At 34, Steele, a graduate of Severn School and St. Mary's College, where he was a two-time All-American in sailing, is still very much involved in windsurfing.
Since 1988, he has been director of racing for Mistral, a windsurfing equipment manufacturer in Dorsey. He conducts clinics and organizes and directs races. Mistral sponsored him during his early racing days, an association that led to his current full-time job.
By no means retired from competition, Steele finished third in the Olympic trials in Fort Pierce, Fla., in April. Each country can send only one representative, and the American winner this year was Mike Gebhardt.
Gebhardt finished behind Steele in the 1984 trials and served as his pre-Olympics training partner. Steele had trained with a group of eight U.S. Olympic hopefuls since 1981. In the 1984 trials in Long Beach, Steele finished first among 20 qualifiers.
"When only the winner goes, and No. 2 stays home, that's pressure," he said. "At the Olympics there was less pressure.
"Sports Illustrated predicted Italy's Klaus Maran would win, although Holland's Stephan van den Berg was a five-time world champion. SI said the American could possibly finish in the top 10."
Indeed, the American finished second behind Van den Berg.
In 1988 Gebhardt won the trials -- Steele then served as his training partner -- and was third in the Olympics.
After helping to coach the leading U.S. wind surfers for two years with the idea of developing a new crop for the 1992 Olympics, Steele paused to compete in the 1990 Goodwill Games. He won a silver medal, failing to strike gold only because he testified on behalf of Poland's Grzegorz Myszkowski, who had been disqualified in the fifth race for crossing the starting line early.
The race committee didn't see Myszkowski return to the starting line and recross it as required, but Steele did and voluntarily spoke up on the Polish sailor's behalf at a protest meeting.
Myszkowski's second-place finish in the fifth race was reinstated, giving him the gold medal that would have gone to Steele.
"Scott is wonderful," Myszkowski said. "What he did was very sportsmanlike."
Steele settled for silver -- and a sportsmanship trophy.