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International yacht racing began in 1851 when a syndicate of members of the New York Yacht Club built a 101-foot schooner named America. The yacht was sailed to England where it won a trophy called the Hundred Guineas Cup in a race around the Isle of Wight. The trophy was renamed The America's Cup and remained in the hands of the United States until 1983, when an Australian yacht finally brought to an end the New York Yacht Club’s 132-year winning streak.
Sailing was first contested as an Olympic sport at the 1900 Paris Games. Since then, the classes of boats allowed to compete have continually evolved to reflect advances in yacht design and technology. Equipment advances over the past 20 years have created a trend towards smaller and lighter craft, placing ever greater demands on both the athletic and technical capacities of the sailors.
The sport is organised under a single set of rules for racing published by World Sailing. Olympic racing is now conducted with boats categorised into one-design classes based on similar weights and measurements.
Races are sailed in what is known as a fleet racing format: fleets of equally-matched boats racing around the same course area at the same time. Courses are designed to incorporate a variety of different sailing angles: upwind, downwind and reaching.
There are two new additions for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The 49erFX skiff has been introduced for women’s sailors and a mixed multihull for male and female sailors to compete side by side.