History of sailing

Sailing competitions have been held since the nineteenth century, although originally, no uniform set of rules existed for the sport. Instead, there were a variety of different yachting clubs in Europe, and each club devised and administered its own rules. When clubs competed against each other, conflicts arose over how the competitions should be held. Therefore, in 1881, after several sets of rules were proposed and rejected, several yacht clubs in England joined the Yacht Racing Association (YRA) and developed a set of rules for racing in British waters.

Although Britain established a uniform standard for sailing races, there was further confusion when British yachts competed against yachts from the rest of Europe or from North America. So in June 1906, following an International Conference on Yacht Measurement in London, a “metre rule” was established for the uniform measurement of racing yachts. The attendees of the conference, who represented 13 European nations, formed the International Yacht Racing Union (IYRU) and adopted a code of racing rules based on those that had been established by the YRA in 1881.

In 1929, representatives from the North American Yacht Racing Union established the North American Yacht Racing Rules, using wording that was almost identical to the rules written by the IYRU. In 1960, a universal code of racing rules was agreed upon. In August 1996, the IYRU changed its name to the International Sailing Federation (ISAF). The Olympic sport, too, was also known as “yachting,” but was changed to “sailing” following the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Olympic sailing events frequently risk postponement or even cancellation as a result of too little or too much wind. Such was the case in Athens in 1896, when storms in the Bay of Salamis, in fact, canceled the entire Olympic sailing competition. Since then, sailing has been held at every Games, except in 1904.

Leading nations

Americans did not compete in sailing from 1904 through 1924, and again in 1980, when the entire U.S. delegation boycotted the Olympics in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But the U.S. still ranks as the most successful nation in Olympic sailing history, winning 59 total medals. Americans dominated the 1984 Olympics, winning medals in all seven events (three golds and four silvers). Their next best performance, in terms of percentage, came at the 1992 Games, where they earned medals in nine of the 10 events. At the 2012 London Games, the Americans failed to capture a sailing medal for just the third Olympics in which they competed (1928, 1936). Not far behind the U.S. in terms of total medals is Great Britain, which has collected more sailing gold medals than the Americans. The hosts of the 2016 Olympics also have a proud sailing tradition. Brazil has won its most gold medals and second-most medals overall in sailing. Since they won their first sailing medal at the 1968 Olympics, the Brazilians have won at least one sailing medal at every Olympics except two (1972, 1992). Brazil’s Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada took bronze in the Star event at the 2012 Olympics.