Olympic Sailing stuck in a Time Warp

The objective of the table below, writes Roy Dunster, is to remind people how the world and sailing has progressed while the Olympics has tended to stay quite stagnant – there’s a table of the historical Olympic sailing events here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sailing_at_the_Summer_Olympics

This is a link to the World Speed Sailing Record Council https://www.sailspeedrecords.com/

Of course, the changes in the non-sailing technology are both an opportunity and a threat – they provide new ways of engaging with a target market (the opportunity) but are a serious threat if other sports are able to engage with that audience more effectively with a more relevant product.

It should be noted that there was evolution in the Olympic events in the past as it went from, broadly, small keelboats to dinghies. Moreover, there is precedent of a significant number of events being changed in a single cycle. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t happen again now.

It’s worth highlighting some of the progress in sailing as a whole:


  • 500m speed record:

26.3 knots (1972) vs 65.45 knots (2012)

  • 24 hour distance record:

512nm (1984) vs 908nm (2009)

  • Singlehanded non-stop around the world:

312 days (1968) vs 42 days (2018)

  • Crewed non-stop around the world:

79 days (1993) vs 41 days (2017)


Obviously, those have been enabled by massive advances in technology, specifically around construction materials, hardware, electronics and understanding of fluid dynamics. The technology behind sailing is a great story to tell and we don’t seem to be exploiting it.


It should also be noted:

  • Kites first held the World Sailing Speed Record in 2008 – they are not “new” or “unproven” as the naysayers would have one believe
  • The first world championship won by a hydrofoil was in 2005 and you’ll be aware how large the Moth World Champs is now. You’ll also know about hydrofoils in the A-Class cats, the C-Class cats and the Americas Cup
    • Again, the technology is several generations old now


This is the table:




There are, of course, lots of other things you can add to the list – eg, the invention of Thin Ply Technology (TPT) that eventually led to 3DI sails and better carbon masts. Also you’d be able to think of other major technological achievements outside sailing. The point is that Olympic sailing has not kept up.

Roy Dunster

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