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Updated:2008-06-03 17:29 |

Wassaw Sound, 29 July 1996, Games of the XXVI Olympiad: Torben GRAEL (at the helm) and Marcelo FERREIRA of Brazil in action in the mixed keelboat Star race. Credit: Getty Images

Sailing first became an Olympic sport in Paris in 1900, where time handicaps were used to adjudicate the race. The race format and the classes of competing boats have changed frequently since then. Olympic racing is now conducted with boats categorised into one-design classes based on similar weights and measurements.

Discipline's origin

Sailing, also called yachting, has been practised since antiquity as a means of transport. In the modern sense, yachting probably originated in the Netherlands, and the word seems to come from the Dutch "jaght" or "jaght schip," probably a light, fast naval craft.

The sport was brought to England by King Charles II in the mid-1600s after his exile to Holland. 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 under the auspices of the Royal Yacht Squadron. The trophy was renamed The America's Cup, after the yacht, not after the United States, as is commonly thought. The trophy remained in the hands of the United States, and specifically New York Yacht Club, until 1983 when an Australian yacht finally broke the American stranglehold.

Olympic history

Sailing was first contested at the 1900 Olympics. It made its next Olympic appearance in 1908 and has been on every Olympic programme since that year. Sailing has had a varied programme that is usually changed every few Olympiads as the popularity of various boats waxes and wanes. The trend has been towards smaller and smaller boats, with fewer crew members. In some of the early Olympics, crews had as many a 10-12 sailors. During the 2000 Sydney Games, only one event had a three-person crew (Soling), with six events contested by lone sailors.

Women have always been allowed to compete in Olympic sailing with men, but in 1984, separate sailing events were introduced exclusively for women. The Olympic sailing programme in 2000 consisted of men's, women's and mixed events.

In effect, sailing made its Olympic debut in Sydney, as it became the first Olympic sport to make a name change. The sport had always been called yachting in the past.

Opening ceremony of Beijing Olympics