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London 2012 Olympics: sailing guide

By Stina Backer, CNN
August 6, 2012 -- Updated 1138 GMT (1938 HKT)
  • Sailing made its Olympic debut at the Olympic Games in Paris in 1900
  • In the London 2012 Olympics 380 sailors from 63 countries are competing
  • The sailing events are divided into ten classes, six for men and four for women

Editor's note: MainSail is CNN's monthly sailing show, exploring the sport of sailing, luxury travel and the latest in design and technology.

(CNN) -- Even for a seasoned sailor the Olympic sailing class and point system can be a bit confusing as different boats and crew constellations are given the chance to compete every four years.

To try and make sense of it all and to give you the heads up on some of the London 2012 sailing favorites, CNN's MainSail crew have put together a guide to this summer's sailing events.

History of Olympic sailing

Sailing made its Olympic debut in Paris during the 1900 Games and since then the sport has appeared in every Olympic Games, with the exception of St Louis in 1904, making it one of the oldest sports on the Olympic program.

Unlike the early Olympic Games where sailing was dominated by big boats with up to 12 sailors, today's classes feature small boats with up to three crew members.

London 2012 sailing classes
  • Men's Finn
  • Men's Laser
  • Men's 470
  • Men's Star
  • Men's 49er
  • Men's RS-X (windsurfing)
  • Women's 470
  • Women's Elliott 6m
  • Women's RS-X (windsurfing)
  • Women's Laser Radial

Since 1900 more than 40 different sailing classes have taken part in the Olympic Games and some golden oldies like the Dragon and the Flying Dutchman have had to give way for today's modern classes.

"The reason classes keep changing so much is down to the advances made in the equipment used and the latest developments in the sport," said Daniel Smith, press officer at the International Sailing Federation (ISAF).

In keeping with the ever changing class system, only six events from the London 2012 Games program have made it through to the 2016 Games in Rio -- where the biggest shocker in the sailing community was that news that kiteboarding was to replace windsurfing in the 2016.

Men, women, mixed?

Sailing is unique in the sense that women have always been allowed to compete with men in the Olympics, but this changed for the Seoul 1988 Olympics where separate events were introduced exclusively for women. In the London 2012 Olympic Games the sailing events are divided into ten classes -- six for men and four for women.

Weymouth, which is hosting the sailing events at the London 2012 Olympics, is located on the "Jurassic Coast" -- a rocky and dramatic 153 kilometer coastline in the south of England. Weymouth, which is hosting the sailing events at the London 2012 Olympics, is located on the "Jurassic Coast" -- a rocky and dramatic 153 kilometer coastline in the south of England.
Olympic sailing on Jurassic Coast
Olympic sailing on Jurassic Coast Olympic sailing on Jurassic Coast

This summer's Games will be the first Olympics at which sailing has no "open class" -- where men and women can compete against each other. Things will change again for the Rio Games, where the mixed class -- in which men and women compete in the same team -- is making a comeback in form of the new "mixed two person multihull" event.

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Keeping score

There are two disciplines -- match racing (one against one), fleet racing (mass start) -- featured in the London 2012 Olympics. Only one out of ten events, the Women's Elliott 6m class, is using the match racing format.

In match racing teams compete against each other in a series of round robin matches, with the top teams progressing to the final knockout stages.

Fleet racing is slightly more complicated. Each event has a series of races and points are awarded in each race: the first boat scores one point, second scores two points and so on.

After ten races (15 races in the Skiff event) each boat is allowed to discard its worst score and the ten boats with the lowest accumulated scores qualify for the medal race. In the final race, points are doubled and added to the opening series' scores to decide the top ten positions. The athlete or crew with the lowest number of points is the winner.

The 2012 favorites

This summer 380 sailors (237 men and 143 women) from 63 countries will compete in the Olympic sailing events. The home nation currently tops the overall Olympic medal tally. Team GB is expected to win medals in more or less every event but with great teams and individuals sailors from Australia, the U.S., France and Brazil the elusive gold medals could be anyone's for the taking.

British Ben Ainslie captures fourth successive Olympic gold medal -- becoming the greatest Olympic sailor ever

One of the fiercest rivalries this summer is between British sailor Paul Goodison and Australian Tom Slingsby in the men's Laser event. Goodison won gold in the Beijing 2008 Olympics beating Slingsby who was the favorite at the time. Since then Slingsby has come back with a vengeance and has beaten Goodison at all major events, and the pair who used to be good friends are no longer on speaking terms.

Australia's Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen are the favorites in the men's two person 49er class. They are the world number ones, the reigning world champions and currently unbeaten at the London 2012 sailing venue.

Another likely golden Aussie crew consists of Malcolm Page and Mathew Belcher who are competing in the men's 470 event.

Since the 2008 Olympics they have won the world title every year.

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