Olympic History: The First Olympic Games for Sailing

Published on June 2nd, 2016

While Sailing was among the sports at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, high winds cancelled the competition. So it was then four years, at the 1900 Paris Games, when Sailing’s 112-year Olympic history began.

Beginning May 20, 6 of the 8 sailing events were held on the River Seine at Meulan, a small town 20 km away from Paris. The other two events were held off the coast of Le Havre on August 1-5.

The International Yacht Racing Union (IYRU), the international governing body which would later become International Sailing Federation (ISAF) and now World Sailing, wouldn’t exist for another six years. This meant there was no one established international rule book for sailing so the 150 competitors from six nations would have followed their local rules – which must have led to some confusion on the water.

It also meant that the boats were not standardized like they are today and were instead placed in different ‘Ton’ categories according to the Godinet rule which considered displacement, length, and total sail area. The events in 1900 were: 0 – ½ Ton, ½ – 1 Ton, 1 – 2 Ton, 2 – 3 Ton, 3 – 10 Ton, 10 – 20 Ton, 20+ Ton and an Open Class.

Despite the lack of structure and less than ideal wind conditions, the competition would be a relative success. The French were the big winners, dominating with 24 of the 39 available medals. Yes, 39 medals, as each race had a medal and not just the overall ranking. Also, the French had the home field advantage as nations weren’t limited to one team per event.

Yes, some may say it was the good old days.

However, despite the home-nation gold-rush, it was a Swiss sailor who captured the public attention. Hélène de Pourtalès, one of the crew of the winning 1 – 2 Ton class, made history when she became the first ever female Gold medalist of the modern Olympic Games.



Source: World Sailing

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