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Old 07-04-2000
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Dan Dickison is on a distinguished road
Getting to Know Olympic Sailing

In our first Olympic Primer, we offered a look at the sailors who'll represent the US in Sydney, Australia (The Olympic Primer), now here's a look at the boats that make up the Olympic Classes.

 
The three-person Soling is the only class in the Olympic Games that competes under a match-racing format.
 
When the 2000 Olympic Games roll around this September in Sydney, Australia, the sailing portion of the Games will look a little different than in the past. In general, there will be fewer competitors on the water, one new class and an additional discipline—the paralympics for disabled sailors. Like most of the sports that inhabit this rarefied international arena, Olympic sailing exists in a precarious balance that is ongoingly influenced by various factions, including event organizers, one-design classes, national and international governing bodies, equipment manufacturers, the International Olympic Committee, and the sailors themselves. Somewhat in the same fashion that sausage is made, the seemingly endless machinations between these groups collectively determine the shape, size, and content of what we see on the water once every four years.

Over the past century, several classes have come and gone as Olympic sailing continues to evolve. The current Olympic classes—those that we'll see in Sydney—consist of nine, one-design classes, two of which have separate divisions for men and women (470 and Mistral), and one (Soling) that determines its medal winners by way of fleet racing followed by a match-racing format and two classes expressly selected for disabled sailors.

 
The Mistral IMCO is one of two Olympic Classes that feature Men's and Women's divisions. (courtesy of International Mistral Class)
 
Entry limits stipulated by the International Olympic Committee for the 2000 Games have mandated that no more than 400 sailors will participate in Sydney. Therefore, each class has had to conform to entry quotas, and the countries attending have had to qualify through a series of regattas. A possible total of 280 boats may be on the water once the Games formally begin on September 16. Here's a look at the classes:

 
 
Europe  Women's single-handed dinghy. Considered appropriate for sailors weighing 100 to 170 pounds. The single-sailed Europe Dinghy weighs 99 pounds with a 16-foot, six-inch mast that supports 76 square feet of sail. There will be a possible 29 boats competing in Sydney.

 
 
Finn  Men's single-handed dinghy. The macho boat in the Olympics, the Finn has 115-square feet of sail area. Most Finn sailors average more than six feet in height, and generally weight 175 pounds or more. This is the oldest, continuously used class in Olympic sailing, and there may be up to 30 boats on the water in Australia.

 
 
 
The Men's 470 Class may see some of the tightest competition at the Olympic regatta.
 
470  Men's and Women's two-person dinghy. This double-handed, centerboard boat is equipped with a single trapeze so that the crew can be out on the wire if the conditions permit. It is light and narrow, and ordinarily favors a smaller, lighter skipper coupled with a long and lean crew. The boat is particularly well-suited to women's competition because of its light weight, maneuverability, and light crew-weight requirement. A possible 33 entries may be on the line in Sydney.

 
 
Mistral IMCO  Men's and women's windsurfer. At only 12 feet two inches in length, windsurfers are the fastest monohull vessels in the world. The Mistral carries a 7.4-square-meter sail, and the design of the board rewards agility and endurance. This year, unlimited pumping of the sail will be allowed. Up to 41 sailors will compete in Sydney in the Men's Division, and 32 in the Women's.

 
The Laser, one of four single-handed boats that make up the 11 Olympic Classes.
 
 
 
Laser  Open centerboard dinghy. Fast and responsive, the one-person Laser made its Olympic debut in 1996. Its rig features 76 square feet of sail area powering a hull that measures an inch shy of 14 feet. This will be the largest class in Sydney with the possibility of 47 competitors.

 
 
Soling  Open, three-person keelboat. The longest and heaviest of the Olympic classes at 26 feet 11 inches, the Soling is the only class in the Olympic Games where a match-racing format is used to determine the medal winners. (The first rounds of competition take place as fleet racing.) Along with its main and jib, the Soling is also rigged with a spinnaker. Soling sailors are ordinarily big, averaging 190 to 210 pounds. Only 17 entries will be allowed to compete in Sydney.

 
 
Star  Open, two-person keelboat. The Star became an Olympic class in 1932. With 297 square feet of sail area divided between a huge main and miniscule jib, the 22-foot Star requires a skipper and crew with a combined weight averaging 420 pounds. Entries in Sydney will be limited to 18 boats.

 
 
Tornado  Open, two-person multihull. The Tornado is the only multihull among the Olympic classes. Its 272 square feet of sail split between a fully battened main and a small jib can propel the 20-foot catamaran at speeds in the 15 to 20-knot range. Just 18 boats will be on the line for the Sydney Games.

 
Heralding a new millennium, the high-powered 49er will make its debut at the Sydney Olympic Games.
 
49er  49er  Open, two-person, high-performance dinghy. Just five years in existence, the 49er will make its Olympic debut in the Sydney Games. At 16 feet long, this speedster carries 639 square feet of sail area with a main, jib, and asymmetrical spinnaker. Its adjustable racks are set to a crew-weight formula, which ensures that the heavier or lighter crews don't have an advantage in any given conditions. The limit for entries in the Sydney Games is 20 boats.

The Paralympics  For the first time in Olympic history, the Paralympics will be contested as a full-medal sport. The Paralympic Regatta runs from October 20-27 in two classes:

Sonar  An open, three-person keelboat. This popular, 23-foot, Bruce Kirby design will be raced by teams of three disabled sailors, each of which will receive a rating designed to equalize their abilities relative to the other competitors. Twenty boats will compete in Sydney.

2.4 Meter  An open, single-handed keelboat. Twenty-five entries will make up the field in this diminutive (seven-and-a-half feet LOA) full-keeled boat.

The Schedule  The racing in Sydney is scheduled to take place from September 16 to 30, with the individual classes following differing schedules. Most of the competition will occur on Sydney Harbor, with the sailing marina located just off the harbor on Rushcutters Bay. Three of the fleet-racing courses and the match-racing course will be inside Sydney Harbor, and two additional courses will be set near Sydney Heads at the mouth of the Harbor. The competitors will sail inside what the organizers are calling "exclusion zones," which are off limits to other vessels except those authorized by the organizers, Manly Ferries, and something called "rivercats."

 

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