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Everything you need to know about the Olympics Sailing 2024

10 June 2024 • Written by Lucy Dunn

From this year's "hectic"  Olympics sailing venue to medal hopes to watch out for, new-for-2024 classes and where best to watch all the action, here s your all-you-need -to-know guide to this year's sailing Olympics.

Sailing at the 2024 Olympic Games will take place on the waters of the Marseille Marina in the South of France and will run from 28 July - 8 August 2024.

The combination of Marseilles’ narrow shaped bay, surrounding mountains, hot Mediterranean climate and dry winds from the Sahara is likely to test the most experienced sailors, a fact recently confirmed by ILCA 7 sailor and two-time Trofeo Princesa Sofia winner Michael Beckett. "Marseille is an incredibly hectic place," said Beckett. "It’s an incredibly tough place to sail - very unpredictable, very hot, very hectic on and off the water."

Freya Black, silver medallist in the women's 49er FX sailor added her thoughts."Marseille is a challenging venue and I think it will definitely reward a versatile sailor," she said. "You can get any kind of conditions on any given day here which I think is really cool."

Not every Olympic sailing sport will be held in Marseille, though. Setting the record for the furthest medal competition outside a host city, the surfing events will be taking place at Teahupo'o on the island of Tahiti, French Polynesia, renowned for its world-class waves. The competition venue has been designed to blend in with the island’s extraordinary natural surroundings, with the Olympic Village made up of modular homes which will later be relocated and redeployed as social housing.

Where to watch in Marseille

Not surprisingly, on-water viewing will be limited in Marseille, which means an ideal way to watch the sailing from a yacht is via charter. This summer, several brokers will have charter boats in the area, including Y.CO, with Whisper and Halo, and Burgess, with Silvertip, Atalante, Maltese Falcon, La Luna and Norfolk Star. When it comes to French Polynesia, Y.CO will also have Sea Eagle and Windrose of Amsterdam.

Sail yacht Silvertip is available for charter through Burgess
Maltese Falcon is available through Burgess
Motoryacht Halo is available for charter through Y.Co

On land, Marseille’s newly revamped Roucas-Blanc Marina, renamed Marseille Marina for the games, will transform into the competition venue catering for 14 thousand spectators. Tickets are available on the Olympics site and there are various options available, from standing only (limited tickets available) to bigger hospitality packages. There are other VIP packages for sale, including the ones by the official hospitality provider, On Location.

Marseille's newly-revamped Olympic marina
Golem Images

Even if you bring the longest-range binoculars, watching from the shore can be tricky as racing can be fast and therefore hard to follow. If you want to avoid the crowds but soak up the atmosphere, take your iPad, stroll along The Corniche Kennedy, an expansive, three-kilometre-long boulevard that runs along the coast, past several local beaches including the Plages du Prado and Catalan beach and try to find a quiet spot to log in to the coverage online. Marseille will also be hosting some of the Olympic football matches at the city’s Stade Vélodrome.

Read More/From your own private box to meeting the athletes: experience the 2024 Olympics, VIP style

What are the Olympic sailing classes?

All boats compete in a fleet race format, where all the boats and athletes, classified by category, compete simultaneously on the same course. The boats sail a triangular course, marked by buoys, with the aim of reaching the finish line as quickly as possible.

  • Women's Windsurfing (iQFoil): 22 opening series races, 1 quarter final race, 1 semi final race,  1 medal race*
  • Men's Windsurfing (iQFoil):  22 opening series races, 1 quarter final race, 1 semi final race,  1 medal race*
  • Women's Skiff (49er FX) 12 opening series races, 1 medal race
  • Men's Skiff (49er): 12 opening series races, 1 medal race
  • Men's One Person Dinghy (ILCA 7): 10 opening series races, 1 medal race
  • Women's One Person Dinghy (ILCA 6): 10 opening series races, 1 medal race
  • Mixed Two Person Dinghy (470): 10 opening series races, 1 medal race*
  • Mixed Multihull (Nacra 17): 12 opening series races, 1 medal race
  • Women's Kiteboarding (Formula Kite):  16 opening series races, 12 semifinal races, 6 medal races*
  • Men's Kiteboarding (Formula Kite): 16 opening series races, 12 semifinal races, 6 medal races*

*New to 2024

The Nacra 17 Foiling class compete on day nine of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Phil Walter, Getty Images

The Olympic classes explained

All competitors in an event use the exact same model of boat, with no differences in design. The ILCA 6, ILCA 7 and 470 class all use dinghies. Another type of dinghy used in competition is known as a "skiff" which is a faster and more dynamic kind of dinghy, with a flat, narrow hull. There are two types of skiffs used at the Olympics, the 49er and 49erFx.

Dinghies at the Olympics

THE ILCA 7

This is the original rig that has been used at the Olympic Games since 1996. Ben Ainslie won his first two Olympic medals in this boat. The ILCA 7 is used as the men’s dinghy and it uses the Standard Laser rig with a sail area of 7.06m². The ILCA 6 and 7 tend to be among the slower Olympic boat classes.

THE ILCA 6

The ILCA 6 uses a more flexible and slightly shorter lower mast than the ILCA 7 and has 18% less sail area. It is used at the women’s dingy.

THE 470

This double-handed dinghy is rigged with a mainsail, jib, and spinnaker. Unlike the ILCA 6 and 7, the 470 is sailed with trapeze at the Olympic level. In 1988, it was divided into separate men’s and women’s classes but for Paris 2024, it will be a mixed event.

Skiffs at the Olympics

THE 49ER AND 49ERFX

The 49er, named after its hull length of 4.99 metres, is a two-handed skiff. It is rigged with three sails: a main sail, a jib, and an asymmetrical spinnaker.

The two sailors on board take different roles; the helm generally makes the tactical decisions and steers the boat, while the crew undertakes more of the physical work and controls the sails.

The 49erFX was introduced as a women’s skiff from Rio 2016 onwards, made to better suit the weight of all-female crews.

Multihulls at the Olympics

THE NACRA 17

This 13.7-metre catamaran was first added to the Olympic programme at Rio 2016 as a mixed event. It flies above the water on a foil.

The Olympic sailing program also features four board events.

FORMULA KITE 

Capable of speeds up to 40 knots (46mph), kiteboarding, new for Paris 2024, sees athletes using a hand-controlled kite to navigate across the water on a board. A total of 40 riders (20 men and 20 women) will compete for gold, silver and bronze medals.

THE IQFOIL

This is a new Olympic iQFOil windsurf class which will replace the RS:X class. The board appears to fly as hydrofoils lift the board completely out of the water. It will include three different racing formats: slalom, course and marathon.

How do you score in the Olympic sailing system?

Classes will sail numerous races (up to three per day depending on weather conditions). After each race of the opening series, a boat is given a score based on when it crosses the finish line (first = one point, second = two, third = three, etc.). Teams can discard points from their worst race performance.

After the opening series races, the ten boats ranked highest compete in the medal race. Points scored are doubled and added to the opening series’ scores to decide the top ten positions. The boat with the lowest total score will be crowned Olympic champion.

How to qualify for the Olympics

There are 330 quota spaces for sailing at Paris 2024, spread across the 10 events. Each National Olympic Committee can qualify up to 14, but only one boat per event. Qualification period has now ended. Now there are 330 athletes competing across 10 events and eight boat classes.

The course

Olympic sailing courses vary slightly depending on the class, but will generally follow a "trapezoid", "windward-leeward" or "slalom" format, aiming to test each point of sail. Boats are usually sent upwind for the first leg of the course, with the finish downwind.

Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell of Team GB win gold in the Men's Skiff 49er race in Tokyo
Phil Walter, Getty Images

Athletes to watch in 2024

Britain (GB) has won 30 gold medals in Olympic sailing, more than any other country, but the France, People's Republic of China and Spain teams are also ones to keep an eye on.

GB’s 10-strong team for Paris includes Olympic medallists Emma Wilson (iQFOiL), John Gimson and Anna Burnet (Nacra 17) as well as two-time Olympic veterans Chris Grube (Mixed Dingy) and Saskia Tidey (49er). 

Brazilians Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (49erFX) will try to become the first duo to win three consecutive Olympic gold medals. Snapping at their heels will be the Dutch team, led by Odile van Aanholt, who partnered with Annette Duetz to win the 2022 World Championships.

Other names to watch are Croatian Tonci Stipanovic (ICLA 7), who is aiming for a third straight medal, as well as Tokyo 2020 gold medallists Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti (Nacra 17) from Italy. 

European gold medallist Ellie Aldridge is set to be Britain's first representative in kiteboarding, but it's Lauriane Nolot  from the French team who pundits are lining up for the podium. World number one and reigning kitefoil world champion, she has a good chance of winning a medal.

Sailing terminology, explained

"STUCK IN IRONS"

This means the bow of the boat is pointed directly into the wind and therefore the wind cannot help the boat move forward.

TACKING

The main purpose of tacking is to change the direction of a sailboat when sailing upwind (against the wind) and avoid the boat getting "stuck in irons". Changing the side of the boat that faces into the wind will help the boat make progress towards a destination by a series of zigzagging manoeuvres.

GYBING/JIBING 

Gybing or jibing is a sailing manoeuvre where a boat turns its stern (the back of the boat) through the wind, causing the boom (located at the bottom of the mainsail) to swing across from one side of the boat to the other. In racing a triangular course, a jibe is often the most effective way to round a buoy.

HIKING

This term refers to leaning as far to the windward side of the boat as possible in order to keep the boat from capsizing.

TRAPEZE

The trapeze is a wire connected from up on the mast to a hook on a sailor’s harness, near waist-level. This system allows the crew to lean further out beyond the boat. The purpose of using a trapeze is to help keep the boat from capsizing while allowing the sail to be pulled in tightly to maximise speed. Some boats have only one trapeze, but with the 49er, both the crew and the skipper use a trapeze.

HEEL

The heel of the boat refers to how far the boat is leaning to one side. Crew members hike or trapeze in order to control the heel and prevent it from capsizing.

PROTEST

In sailing, a protest is a claim by one boat that another has broken a rule. A protest can be resolved on the water by the guilty party doing a specified number of penalty turns, depending on the offence.

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