Only one Olympic sailing event features blazing boats whose sailors perform near-acrobatic feats on literal trapezes to zoom around the racecourse.
If you’re curious about sailing but worried you’ll be bored, trust me, this is your best choice.
Two women are striding, together, across the deck of a small boat blazing through the ocean. They leap over a mounted GoPro and clip into trapeze harnesses in perfect synchronization, suspended out over the water. There are waves flying everywhere, and the competition is barreling down behind them. They want to harness the wind and move fast, but they also need to maintain enough control to prevent their boat from yanking them over into the water. They look around, calculating their next move—before at last speeding away.
AdvertisementAmerican sailing enthusiasts have very few opportunities to watch the sport they love from home—which is one reason why I so look forward to the Summer Olympics. But even for me, a lifelong sailor, watching boats maneuver around a racecourse can be pretty dull. Singlehanded events can leave the commentators with little more to talk about than why that French laser sailor keeps putting his
in his mouth. (Stop putting the mainsheet in your mouthis practically the first thing you tell every child not to do when they’re learning to sail.). Windsurfing might seem like it would be exciting—it’s got surfing right there in the name—but watch it and you’re likely to be disappointed. It’s so imprecise that competitors can apparently bump into the course markers without penalty, and the pumping motion required to propel the boats forward looks headtopics.com
downright awkward. In all sailing events, if there’s not a lot of wind, or if the courses are very long, or if there isn’t a lot of interaction between participants, watching it can be as mind-numbingly slow, as slow as it sounds to watch boats sit largely still in the water with lone, largely inactive human beings on them for hours.
AdvertisementAdvertisementAdvertisementLuckily there’s an antidote this year: the women’s 49er FX competition. In this event, two-person teams, like the one described above, perform near-acrobatic feats on literal trapezes to zoom around a racecourse, almost like wind-powered NASCAR. Their boats look less like boats and more like 16-foot paper airplanes with sails on top, cutting through the water and built for speed. These boats’ only purpose is to move fast—they’re not even fully stable when they’re sitting still. Their name comes from their length (4.99 meters), and this is only the second time we’ve seen women sail them at the Olympics. (Men have been sailing 49ers at the Olympics since 2000, butand women sail a slightly adjusted “FX” design better suited to their body size.). It’s the best, and if you watch one sailing event at the Olympics this year, even if you’ve never sailed, it should be this one.
AdvertisementWatching each boat accelerate around the first mark, with their big, balloon-like spinnaker sails emblazoned with an oversized print of each team’s flag, is a tiny thrill.In 49er FX—as with all the sailing events at the Olympics and beyond—the objective is to circle around a course marked by large, inflatable buoys, again, like NASCAR. But since boats can’t start, stop, or maneuver like cars do, there are some tricky tactics involved. For instance, the competitors have to jockey for the most advantageous spot on the starting line and sit under it without crossing early or hitting any other boats, for nearly four minutes. Then, they have to power up and zoom away at the exact moment the countdown finishes. The racecourse itself tests the competitors’ tactical and physical skills at different points of sail; the best strategies vary depending on what direction the boats are headed relative to what direction the wind is coming from. Each boat will cross the finish line several times over the course of one day of competition and will be assigned points: 1 point for first place, 2 points for second. After several days of these heats, the team with the lowest point total will win the gold.Read more: Slate »
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