Olympic sailing can be difficult to follow for many. And with significant changes for Paris 2024, even those familiar with the sport might need a refresher on how it all works

Sailing has been an Olympic sport since the first Olympiad in 1896 and has changed significantly over the years since. But whilst the sport of sailing at the Olympic Games has always undergone changes, arguably Paris 2024 will see one of, if not the, biggest changes to the event format in the recent history of the Games.

Over recent Olympiads there has been an ongoing transition away from some of the more ‘traditional’ Olympic sailing classes towards more modern, higher performance classes and also more accessible classes in terms of pure equipment cost. Plus a drive for greater gender equity in Olympic medals generally has also had an effect.

As such, of the 10 Olympic Sailing events in Paris 2024, 50% are new to the Olympic Games. And for four of these events, the newly introduced Formula Kite for men and women, and the foiling windsurfer for men and women, there will be new formats that may well be unfamiliar to anyone who has watched Olympic sailing previously.

What are the Olympic Sailing events in Paris 2024?

The 10 events that will take place in Paris 2024 will be:

  • Men’s Windsurfing – iQFOiL – NEW for 2024
  • Women’s Windsurfing – iQFOiL – NEW for 2024
  • Men’s Kite – Formula Kite – NEW for 2024
  • Women’s Kite – Formula Kite – NEW for 2024
  • Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7
  • Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6
  • Men’s Skiff – 49er
  • Women’s Skiff – 49erFX
  • Mixed Dinghy – 470 – NEW for 2024
  • Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17

Head over to our Paris 2024 Olympic Sailing page for more on the Olympic classes.

ILCA 7 sailing. Photo: Sailing energy / World Sailing

What is the Olympic sailing format?

For most of the sailing events at the Paris Olympics, medals will be awarded under a tried and tested format and will be familiar to sailors and avid Olympic watchers the world over.

The ILCA 7 (previously known as the Laser), ILCA 6 (previously Laser Radial), 49er, 49erFX, 470, and Nacra 17 will all compete in a fleet racing format, meaning all competitors and crews take to the course at the same time in a straight race to the finish.

After the opening series races (10 races for the ILCAs and 470, 12 races for the Nacra, 49er and 49er FX), the ten boats ranked highest compete in a medal race on the final day of racing.

Points are awarded based on how well a boat finishes in each race. First place receives one point, second receives two points, and so on, while the points from the worst race performance for each crew are discarded.

Olympic 49er racing. Photo: Sailing energy / World Sailing

The remaining points are then added together and used to determine the rankings. So the lower the total score, the better the ranking.

The top 10 boats compete in a medal race in which the points for each placement are doubled.

The boat with the lowest total score (including the opening series) will be crowned Olympic champion.

Men’s Formula Kite racing

Formula Kite format

The format for the Formula Kite fleets is initially almost exactly the same as for the traditional classes, with an opening qualification series running for the majority of the week with points being awarded on the same basis (one point for first place, two points for second etc.)

The key difference in Formula Kite racing is the length of the races. Kite foiling is fast and furious and races last around 10 minutes – as compared to 35-50 minutes for traditional classes.

Where the Formula Kite format is very different from the traditional fleets is in the Medal Race day format.

For the Medal Race day, the top 10 competitors go through to a Semi-Final and Final format. The top two competitors go straight through to the Final while the two Semi-Finals are made up of four competitors each in alternating rankings.

Each Semi-Final group races until a competitor has won three races and the first competitor to do so in each Semi-Final goes through to the Final.

However, the sailors who qualified in third and fourth start the Semi-Finals with two race wins already on the board. And the sailors in fifth and sixth start with one race win.

For the Finals, the format is once again first to three race wins, with the sailors who qualified for the Final in first and second starting the final with two and one race wins respectively.

Women’s iQFOiL racing. Photo: Sander van der Borch/World Sailing

iQFOiL windsurfing format

For anyone used to the more normal Olympic Sailing formats, the racing in the iQFOiL windsurfer does take a bit of getting used to and will look different depending on the weather.

The foiling windsurfers have three types of racing, which will vary during the week, largely depending on weather conditions.

The first type of racing is the Sprint Slalom, where racing takes place on a fully downwind course, reaching back and forth until the finish. This is typically used if the wind is light, around 10 knots or less. The target race time here is around 5 minutes.

If the wind is over 10 knots then a more traditional fleet race format will be used, essentially the same as the more traditional sailing classes, with the windsurfers sailing an upwind and downwind course. The target race time for fleet racing is around 15-20 minutes.

Men’s iQFOiL racing. Photo: Vincent Curutchet/World Sailing

The third type of racing is the Marathon course. The shape of this course depends on the venue and the wind direction, but the aim is for the race to last at least 1-1.5 hours. For the Paris 2024 Olympics this Marathon is currently scheduled to take place on the penultimate day of racing, Thursday 1 August.

As with all other classes, the final day of racing is reserved for the Medal Race competition, with the top 10 competitors going through to this final day of racing.

However, where the iQFOil differs from the rest, once you have made it through to this final day, scores are wiped clean for the top ten, so everyone starts the final day evenly.

Racing then takes place in either Sprint Slalom or an upwind / downwind fleet racing course (again depending on weather conditions).

The fleet racing course is slightly different in layout and much shorter (sub-10 minutes per race) than in the previous week, and the entirety of the Medal Race day is a knock out format, making it a much more exciting, if unpredictable, competition.

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