The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) was founded in 1907 as the International Yacht Racing Union, changing its name in 1996. Sailing made its Olympic debut at the 1900 Paris Games.
When sailing was first contested at the 1900 Paris Games, the sport was dominated by bigger boats, sometimes with as many as 12 sailors on board, and time handicaps were used to adjudicate the races. Starting from 1924 and increasingly from the 1950s onwards, the trend has been towards smaller and smaller one-design boats with fewer crew members.
The old and the new
Currently in Olympic competition the line-up of boats is a mixture between classes with a long and distinguished history, such as the Star and the Finn, and those reflecting the design and technology advances in the sport, such as the 49er high performance dinghy and RS:X windsurfer.
Racing and identification
Races are sailed in a fleet racing format where fleets of equally-matched boats race around the course in a group. The courses offer a thorough challenge to the racers incorporating upwind, reaching and downwind sailing angles. The boats are identified on the water by national flags on the sails and the crew names on the mainsail.
A new addition for the 2012 London Games will be a match racing event for women, a head-to-head contest between two identical boats.
The competitors contest ten regular races (15 for the 49er). Scores are awarded according to finishing positions in each race (1 point for first, 2 points for second, etc) and each boat can discard their worst score. The ten boats with the lowest accumulated scores qualify for the Medal Race. In this shorter 30 minute race, points scored are doubled and added to the opening series’ scores to decide the top ten positions. In the match racing event, the scoring is simple; the first boat across the line wins the match. The teams all compete against each other in a round robin series of matches, with the top teams progressing to the final knockout stages.