London 2012 Olympics: sailing guide

Olympic venues prepare for sailing
Olympic venues prepare for sailing

    JUST WATCHED

    Olympic venues prepare for sailing

MUST WATCH

Olympic venues prepare for sailing 07:34

Story highlights

  • 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

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.

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.

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.

Keeping score

Sailing at the Olympics
Sailing at the Olympics

    JUST WATCHED

    Sailing at the Olympics

MUST WATCH

Sailing at the Olympics 08:11
Which sailors will take Olympic gold?
Which sailors will take Olympic gold?

    JUST WATCHED

    Which sailors will take Olympic gold?

MUST WATCH

Which sailors will take Olympic gold? 06:39
Kiteboarding: The birth of a new sport
Kiteboarding: The birth of a new sport

    JUST WATCHED

    Kiteboarding: The birth of a new sport

MUST WATCH

Kiteboarding: The birth of a new sport 07:59

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.

        MainSail

      • Wide shot of a sailboat from a drone

        Drones offer new angle on superyachts

        "Sometimes, I fly the drone with my head in a trash bag so I don't get salt spray from the sea on my equipment," says drone operator Justice L Bentz.
      • Dave Swete and Nick Dana on the bow of Alvimedica for a windy downwind sail change during the team's second trans-Atlantic training session, this time from Newport, Rhode Island, USA, to Southampton, England

        Disney duo's new 'fairytale story'

        Navigate the world's most treacherous seas, crossing 73,000 nautical kilometers in a confined space with stressed-out, sleep-deprived crewmates. 
      • The Triton Submarine.

        Millionaire water toys

        Personal submarines, jetpacks, even 'walking boats.'
        Why the Monaco Yacht Show is a bit like stumbling upon James Bond's secret gadget lab.
      • London's new superyacht hotel, in Royal Victoria Docks.

        Inside $67M superyacht hotel

        London's new superyacht hotel is so enormous, authorities had to lower the water level by five meters just to fit it under a bridge.
      • Thomson hurtles up to the top of the mast aware that the boat can keel at any moment and fling him either onto the deck or the water below

        What next for sailing's daredevil?

        His mast-walking stunts have attracted over 3.5 million hits on YouTube, but Alex Thomson just wants to get back to doing what he does best.
      • Endeavour, a 1934 J-Class yacht, racing during The America's Cup Anniversary Jubilee around The Isle of Wight 21 August 2001. The four entries in the J-Class category represent the oldest remaining class used in America's Cup competition. Over 200 boats, including vintage yachts are taking part in the America's Cup Jubilee to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the first America's Cup race in 1851. AFP PHOTO Adrian DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

        Through hell and high water

        Elizabeth Meyer talks to CNN's Mainsail about the "Armageddon battle" to restore the pioneering J-class boat Endeavour.
      • Specatators use a boat to watch as boat crews race on the River Thames at the Henley Royal Regatta on July 2, 2014 in Henley-on-Thames, England. Opening today and celebrating its 175th year, the Henley Royal Regatta is regarded as part of the English social season and is held annually over five days on the River Thames. Thousands of rowing fans are expected to come to watch races which are head-to-head knock out competitions, raced over a course of 1 mile, 550 yards (2,112 m) which regularly attracts international crews to race. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

        'Downton Abbey' on the water

        Like "Downton Abbey," Henley's Royal Regatta reminds its visitors of an England of old. But for how much longer?
      • LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 10: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge poses next to the America's Cup as she visits the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich for the Ben Ainslie America's Cup Launch on June 10, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

        Britain's $134M secret weapon?

        Can a $134 million budget and the royal seal of approval bring the coveted America's Cup back to British shores for the first time in sailing history?
      • Eyos Expeditions offers superyacht journeys to the most remote places on Earth.

        Yachting to the ends of the Earth

        Bored of lounging on your superyacht in the Mediterranean? An increasing number of millionaires are now sailing their luxury vessels to the ends of the Earth, to get their kicks.