Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

First Olympic Appearance: 1900

by Gerry Brown and Mark Zurlo

Did You Know?

Boats that come in contact with a buoy out on the race course must do a 360, sailing around the buoy in a complete circle, unless the sailors can convince the jury that it wasn't their fault. Mistrals are the only boats allowed to touch buoys without penalty.

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The Aussies showed they knew a thing or two about the sport of sailing in 1983 when they became the first foreign country in 132 years to win the America's Cup, sailing's biggest prize.

Formerly known as yachting, the sailing competition was given the new name in 2000 for a few reasons. Mostly because seven of the current classes of boats being used in Olympic competition are actually small dinghies or sailboards and are far from the definition of a yacht. Another reason Olympic officials decided on the switch was to lessen the public perception of the sport as one for the wealthy elite.

The action will be held at the Agios Kosmas Olympic Sailing Center on the coast of southern Attica and comprise eleven events in nine different boat classes and two racing categories.

Confused? The two categories are fleet racing and match racing. The vast majority of the Olympic sailing is fleet racing. That involves a large group of boats racing against each other on the same course. Each event is an 11-race series. In each race, points are allocated according to their finish. First place gives you one point, second place gives you two, etc. At the end of the 11-race series (16-races for the 49er class) the boat with the lowest point total is the winner.

The only match racing is done in the Soling class, a three-person keelboat that will be the largest boat in the Olympic racing at Sydney. Match racing is a one-on-one affair in which the contest is not so much a flat-out race to finish (like fleet racing) but more a tactical battle where one boat attempts to outmaneuver the competition and force them into a violation of the rules, thereby incurring a penalty.

In the eleven events, there are three for men, three for women and five open events. The men's events are sailboard (using a Mistral class boat), single-handed dinghy (Finn class), and double-handed dinghy (470 class). The women's events are sailboard (Mistral class), single-handed dinghy (Europe class), and doubled-handed dinghy (470 class). The open events are single-handed dinghy (Laser class), double-handed, high-performance dinghy (49er), double-handed catamaran (Tornado class), two-person keelboat (Star class), and the aforementioned three-person keelboat (Soling class).

While the Soling class is the largest boat in the Olympics, the fastest is the Tornado, capable of more knots than the Boy Scout handbook. Tornado sailors should be racing at speeds of 15 to 20 knots. The Mistral class is for windsurfers. Prior to the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Lechner's were used for Olympic windsurfing but four years ago the Mistral was introduced. The 49er, a super-efficient, high performing skiff, is a recent entry into the Olympics.

The 2012 competition features two changes of sailing classes from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Yngling competition will be replaced by the women's Match Race and the Tornado Class Catamaran competition has been dropped for the London Olympics. The competition will be held at Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, which opened in 2000. The academy is located on the Isle of Portland, Dorset off the south coast of England.

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