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History

Sailing has been used as a means of transport since ancient times. As a pastime, sailing gained considerable popularity in Holland about 400 years ago. Shortly after the restoration of the monarchy in the United Kingdom in 1660, King Charles II introduced sailing as a sport.

He had seen the Dutch love of sailing during his travels in exile in Europe. The first yacht club in the world was formed in Cork, Ireland in 1720. International yachting began in 1851 when the schooner America, from the New York Yacht Club, defeated fifteen British yachts in a race around the Isle of Wight in what became the first race of the America’s Cup series.

Olympic History

Great Britain is the most successful nation in Olympic sailing history, with more gold medals won than any other nation.  Team GB’s sailors have topped the medal table at the last three Olympic Games.

The first Olympic sailing (or yachting, as it was known up to and including 1996) events were conducted in Paris in 1900, although some noted historians have questioned the legitimacy of those events as Olympic events.

London 1908 saw sailing commence its unbroken run as an Olympic sport. Since then, the classes of competing boats and scoring systems have seen many changes. Women have always been permitted to sail in the Olympic regatta but events exclusively for women sailors were introduced Barcelona 1992.

Technical

How does Olympic Classes sailing work?

Race series:
For the Olympic classes, except the Elliot 6m Women's Match Racing event, a regatta consists of a ten race series (15 for the 49er class), where all boats take to the same startline.  Sailors discard their one worst race result (only counting nine races; 14 for the 49er class) and after the initial ten (15) races, the top ten boats in each class move on to a final required and non-discardable 'medal race'.  This counts as double points which are added to their standing score. The sailor with the lowest overall score will win the event. 

In the Elliot 6m Women's Match Racing event, crews race each other one-on-one, initially in a round-robin stage, with the winning crews then progressing to a knockout stage.  Click here for more on how match racing works.

Courses:


Each class will complete several laps on a course designed for its own specific type of racing. Course length and shape varies according to the type of boat racing and the wind speed.

Starting: 


In sailing, races begin with a rolling start. The start line is set between a committee boat, from which officials run the racing and a buoy. Starting lines vary in length according to how many boats are competing in the event. Sailors aim to cross the line immediately following the starting gun. During competition sailors have two main objectives, to get a good start and to sail as fast as possible. By getting a good start sailors are able to take advantage of the changing weather and of their competitors position on the course. Unlike other sports, sailors can start anywhere on the line which means sailors continually jostle for the best position determined by the course, the wind direction and the fleet this leads to very intense moments during the timed countdown to the start.

Explanation of the starting signals: 
If a sailor has a premature start, the race officer will sound another signal and raise the X flag. This informs the fleet that somebody was over the start line early and indicates that sailors over the line early must turn back and cross the start line again.

Race winning: 


The winner of an individual race is the first boat to sail the course and cross over the finish line that is between the committee boat and a buoy. The winner of a racing event or regatta is the boat with the lowest points.

equipment

Laser - Men's single-handed dinghy

Designed by American Bruce Kirby in 1969 it is one of the simplest of the Olympic class boats. The Laser, which first participated in the Olympic Games in 1996, is a tough boat, easily rigged and light, with a single sail and flat bottom.

Length: 4.23m (13ft 10in), Breadth: 1.37m (4ft 6in), Weight: 59kg (130lb), Type: Dinghy, Crew: 1, Designer: Bruce Kirby, Year: 1969

Laser Radial - Women's single-handed dinghy

The Laser Radial made its debut at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, replacing the Europe class.

A popular boat among men, women and children, the Radial is based upon the same hull and equipment as the Laser however the Radial has a slightly smaller sail and a different lower mast.

The recommended weight range for this technical one-design boat is between 60-75kgs although the boat is being sailed competitively below and above these weights.

Length: 4.23m (13ft 10ins), Breadth: 1.37m (4ft 5ins), Weight: 56.7kg (125lbs 0.03oz), Type: Dinghy, Crew: 1, Designer: Bruce Kirby and Ian Bruce, Year: 1969

Finn - Single-handed heavyweight dinghy - open

Originating in Finland, the Finn is a one-person, single sail dinghy that has been part of the Olympic Games since 1952. The Finn is an intensely tactical boat in which the top ten places are often seconds apart after several hours racing and the fact that the boat is powerful means that it requires a true athlete to get the most out of it.

In strong winds the boat rewards those who are fit and able to discipline themselves to perform the exhausting task of driving the boat full out while managing the tactical and psychological aspects of the race.

Overall the Finn requires an athlete to be exceptionally fit and strong, outstanding in tactics and familiar with the techniques of sail and rig tuning.

Length: 4.5m (14ft 7in), Breadth: 1.6m (5ft 2in), Weight: 140kg (308lb), Type: Dinghy, Crew: 1, Designer: Richard Sarby, Year: 1952

Neilpryde RS:X - Men and women's windsurfer

Replacing the Mistral, the NeilPryde RS:X was the new windsurfing equipment used at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

A strict one-design class sailed by both men and women, the RS:X is the only boat that will bring the sailor into direct contact with the air and sea.

The board, shaped by Jean Bouldoires, is a true crossover board in that it makes the best compromise between traditional raceboard sailing and exciting “Formula” racing. The RS:X sail performs exceptionally well in both planing and non-planing conditions and has been designed for easy handling.

Length: 2.86m, Breadth: 0.93m, Sail (men): 9.5msq Sail (women): 8.5msq, Type: Sailboard, Crew: 1, Designer: Neil Pryde Ltd, Year: 2004

470 - Men and women's double-handed dinghy

Created in France in the 1960s by Andre Cornu, the 470 is a small, fast boat, its name deriving from its length. It is a highly technical class, with the ability to ‘plane’ (skim the waves like a powerboat) in a high wind. 

It is sailed by two people and has three sails (mainsail, jib and spinnaker) as well as a trapeze, which allows the crew to lean out of the craft. The 470, first recognised as an Olympic class in 1976, was also the first women’s class, accepted into the Olympic Games in 1988 in Seoul.

Length: 4.7m (15ft 5in), Breadth: 1.68m (5ft 6in), Weight: 120kg (265lb), Type: Dinghy, Crew: 2, Designer: Andre Cornu, Year: 1963

49ER - High performance dinghy - open

The 49er is one of the most exhilarating of all of the Olympic Classes, providing exciting racing over short courses. With a huge sail area (consisting of mainsail, jib and asymmetric spinnaker), twin trapezes and an ultra light hull it can reach up to 30 knots in speed.

The boat requires the crew to have a high level of agility and athleticism as they must make rapid, and often acrobatic, movements. Designed by Australian architect Julian Bethwaite in 1995, the class made its debut at the 2000 Sydney Games.

Length: 4.995m (16ft), Breadth: 2.9m (9ft), Weight: 70kg (155lb), Type: Skiff, Crew: 2, Designer: Frank Bethwaite, Year: 1995

Star - Men's two-person keelboat

The Star was designed in 1911 by Frances Sweisguth and made its first appearance at the Olympic Games in 1932, making it the oldest Olympic Class. It is a highly technical double-handed keelboat and requires both the helm and crew to be in tune with the boat.

The 22ft open keelboat has a highly fragile and ultra sensitive rig, which needs the constant attention of the two crew. Many of the world's top sailors past and present have been involved in the Star Class.

Length: 6.992m (22ft 7in), Breadth: 1.732m (5ft 6in), Weight: 671 kg (1479lb), Type: Keelboat, Crew: 2, Designer: Francis Sweisguth, Year: 1911

Elliott 6m - Women's match racing

The Elliott 6m will make its Olympic debut at London 2012 after women's match racing was ratified as the newest Olympic Class in November 2008.

Designed by New Zealander Greg Elliott, the Olympic boat is a modified version of the Elliott previously used at World match racing events.The rig and sail area has been reduced from the original Elliott 6m to allow sailing in a greater wind range with max crew weight of 205kg. The fixed keel has been changed to allow for lifting or removal.

The build of the first eight of the new Elliott 6m designs were completed at McConaghy boats in China and they will make their ISAF Sailing World Cup debut at Kiel in June 2009 before arriving on British soil for September's Skandia Sail for Gold regatta.

Beam Length 2.35m (7 ft 81/2 in), Draught Length 1.66m (5Ft 5in), Mainsail Area 15.9m2, Headsail Area 7.7m2, Spinnaker Area 28m2, Type Keelboat, Crew 3 (max weight 205kgs), Designer Greg Elliott, Year 2000 (Modified 2008)

rules

In Olympic Competition competitors set off at the same time around a course of buoys. The first to cross the finishing line is the winner of that race. The overall winner and medals are decided over a series of several races with the lowest overall point scorer winning. Points are scored on a 1 for first, 2 for second basis. Different classes have different course layouts.

If a competitor believes a fellow sailor has broken the rules the helm will instantly call protest to signal that the sailor believes a rule infringement has been made.

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Our Results

Total: 55 medals
  • 26 Gold
  • 18 Silver
  • 11 Bronze
Paris 1900
  • 3 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 1 Bronze
London 1908
  • 4 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 1 Bronze
Antwerp 1920
  • 2 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Paris 1924
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Amsterdam 1928
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Los Angeles 1932
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Berlin 1936
  • 1 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 1 Bronze
London 1948
  • 2 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Helsinki 1952
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Melbourne 1956
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 2 Bronze
Rome 1960
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Tokyo 1964
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Mexico City 1968
  • 1 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 1 Bronze
Munich 1972
  • 1 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Montreal 1976
  • 1 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Los Angeles 1984
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 1 Bronze
Seoul 1988
  • 1 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Barcelona 1992
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 1 Bronze
Atlanta 1996
  • 0 Gold
  • 2 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Sydney 2000
  • 3 Gold
  • 2 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Athens 2004
  • 2 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 2 Bronze
Beijing 2008
  • 4 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 1 Bronze
London 2012
  • 1 Gold
  • 4 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
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