Sailing in the 2012 London Summer Olympics - dummies

Sailing in the 2012 London Summer Olympics

The London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition will be held from July 28 to August 11 in Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour. The ten events — six men’s and four women’s — are expected to attract 380 athletes from more than 50 nations.

Sailing made its Olympic debut in 1900 (when it was still known as Yachting) and has appeared at every Olympic Games since 1908. Olympic sailing differs from other Olympic events in that the racing takes place over multiple days, so the sailor has to prepare for what is sure to be a long, demanding event.

There are two competition formats in Olympic Sailing — fleet racing and match racing. There is only one match racing event. The rest are fleet races and follow this competition format:

  • Each fleet racing event is a series of races. First place in each race scores one point. Second place scores two points, etc. After 10 races (15 races in the 49er event), points from the worst race are discarded. The remaining points are added together. So, the lower the score, the better the overall performance.

  • The 10 lowest scoring athletes/crews advance to the medal race. Points are doubled, so first place gets two points, second gets four, etc. The points total after the medal race determines the winner. The athlete/crew with the lowest number of points is the winner.

In match racing, only two boats race against each other at one time. The scoring is also different than in fleet racing. In fleet racing, the lowest score wins, while in match racing, high score gets the Gold. The one Olympic match racing event is the women’s Elliot 6 meter.

  • The first stage in the match racing event is a round-robin with 12 crews racing against each other. One point is awarded to the winning team of each race.

  • The highest scoring eight crews progress to the knockout stage, where they race each other in a series of races. Each series is won by the first crew to reach three points.

Three sailing disciplines are represented in the Olympic sailing events — sailboard, dinghy, and keelboat. One or more types of boats are used in each class. The class is known by the type of boat used. For example, the 470 is the lightest weight type of dinghy used in the Olympics. Therefore, both the class and the event are known as the 470.

Category Class Men’s Women’s
Surfboard RSX Sailboard X X
Dinghy 470 X X
Laser (aka Laser Standard) X
Laser Radial X
Finn X
49er X
Keelboat Star X
Elliot 6 X
  • Olympic Sailboarding: The one sailboarding event uses the RS:X Sailboard. It’s designed to support windsurfing in the low or moderate wind conditions that are common in Olympic locations.

  • Olympic Dinghy sailing: Single-handed dinghies are operated by one sailor, while double-handed dinghies are operated by two. Half of the Olympic events fall into the Dinghy category.

    • The 470 (Four-Seventy) is a double-handed dinghy that is 4.70 meters long (thus the name). It has been an Olympic class since 1976. Teamwork to control the spinnaker and trapeze sails is key to winning the 470 Olympic event.

    • The Laser is a relatively light weight, single-handed dinghy. Laser sailors are very active, hiking and getting upwind and reaching quickly. In order to maximize speed, boats will often be sailed by the lee, where the boom and sail will be allowed to travel significantly forward of the mast.

    • The Laser Radial is a variant of the Laser, with shorter mast and reduced sail area, allowing light sailors to sail in heavy winds. The only difference between the Laser Standard and Laser Radial is the size of the sail and the length of the lower section of the mast.

    • The Finn dinghy is also a single-handed dinghy, but substantially heavier than the Laser. The Finn has been in every summer Olympics as a men’s-only event since 1952. The Finn is a boat for sailors who are tall and heavy with a huge amount of strength to try and throw this big heavy boat around.

    • The 49er is a double handed dinghy with twin trapeze sails. This high performance two person skiff has been in every Olympics since 2000.The helmsman makes most of the tactical decisions and steers the craft, while the crewman does most of the sail control.

  • Olympic Keelboat sailing: Keelboats are the largest of all boats used in the Olympic Games. There are two keelboat events — one men’s and one women’s:

    • The Star is a 6.9 meters (22.7 feet) keelboat that has been an Olympic Games class since 1932. This will be the last Olympics for the Star event. The Star is raced by a two-man crew.

      The most distinguishing feature of Star sailing is the extreme hiking position used by the crew. Using a harness, the crew hangs so low off the windward side of the boat that only their lower legs remain inside.

    • The Elliott 6 meter is the keelboat used in the Olympic women’s match racing event. The Elliott 6m carries a spinnaker pole and symmetric spinnaker which is considered more suitable for match racing.

      This is the only match racing event in the Olympics. There is no comparable men’s event.

The International Sailing Federation is the governing body for Olympic sailing events, under the authority of the International Olympic Committee.