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History of women in the Olympic Sailing Competition

Olympic Games

History of women in the Olympic Sailing Competition

Whilst women have participated in the Olympic Sailing Competitions from the early days of the Olympics, it was not until the 1988 Olympic Games that a specific women's event was included on the sailing programme. Since then, the number of women's events has quadrupled to four, and the number of athletes systematically increased. However, this increase in participation is not just down to additional events for women, but can also be attributed to the increased support available to women across all sports.

Jenny ARMSTRONG and Belinda STOWELL (AUS) on the podium after winning gold in the Double-Handed Dinghy Women (470), alongside silver medallists JJ Isler and Pease Glaser (USA) and bronze medallist Ruslana TARAN and Olena PAKHOLCHYK (UKR) at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. © Mike Hewitt /Allsport

Continuing increase of female participation
Since 1988 the participation of women has continued to go up. 1992 saw an increase in the overall number of events, going up from 8 to 10, with the additional two events given to a Women's Single-Handed Dinghy (Europe) and Women's Windsurfer (Lechner A-390). The total number of athletes increased to 443, with the three women's events accounting for 82 athletes. Moving onto 1996, and the number of events remained the same, although a greater allocation of slots was given to the women's events, to bring the total number of female athletes up to 99 - 21% of the total number of 458 athletes in Savannah, USA.

Women's participation in 2004
Sydney 2000 saw the introduction of an eleventh event, the high-performance dinghy open (49er). However, this new event made little dent in the athlete quotas given to women. Whilst the overall athlete quota fell to 402, the women athlete quota was 94, given an overall female participation of 23%. Athens 2004 will see women's participation almost hit the magic 35%. This is the benchmark which ISAF has set the sport for 2004, and which the IOC has striven to attain across all sports. The introduction of the Women's Keelboat (Yngling) has seen a further 45 athlete slots given to women. Again, this new event has not impacted the quotas across the other women's events. The Double-Handed Dinghy Women (470) has the same number of athletes as in 2000 – 38. The Windsurfer Women (Mistral) has been allocated 28 slots in 2004, down one from 2000. The Women's Single-Handed Dinghy (Europe) has been allocated 26 slots in 2004, down one from 2000.

137 women sailors in Athens
Athens 2004 will welcome 137 women sailors, the greatest ever number to participate in an Olympic Regatta. Competition will be fierce, but alongside this the camaraderie amongst the women sailors will be strong. The top performing nation since the introduction of women's events in 1988 has been the USA, who have claimed 1 Gold, 1 Silver and 3 Bronze Medals. However, a total of 17 different nations have claimed medals, and there are many more striving for success in Athens.


Windsurfer Women
Moving across to the Windsurfer Women, one sailor stands out from the rest, New Zealand's Barbara KENDALL, who has achieved a quiver of medals, Gold in 1992, Silver in 1996 and Bronze in 2000. To perform at this elite level across three Olympiads is incredible, and she will be back on the startline at the 2004 Olympic Sailing Competition and has every chance of taking a medal. Alessandra SENSINI (ITA) has also put in a superb performance on the Mistral, taking the bronze medal in 1996 and the Gold in 2000.

Alessandra SENSINI (ITA) (centre) wins Gold, Amelie LUX (GER) (left) Silver and Barbara KENDALL (NZL) (right) Bronze at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. © Mark Dadswell /Allsport

First medal winning woman
Whilst women have always been eligible to sail in all events, they had seldom entered those where physical strength and stamina were at a premium. The first woman to win a medal in sailing at the Olympic Games was Frances RIVETT-CARNAC (GBR) at the 1908 Olympics held in London (GBR). Frances was part of the Gold Medal winning crew of four sailing in the 7 Metre Class. The next Olympic Games to see a woman win a medal were the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp (BEL) where Dorothy WRIGHT (GBR) was also part of the Gold Medal winning 7 Metre Class crew. It was another 8 years during the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam (NED) for the next women medallist. This time the honours went to Virginie HERIOT (FRA) who took the Gold Medal as part of a crew of six in the 8 Metre Class. The eight year cycle for women winning medals was repeated again as it was not until the 1936 Olympics in Berlin (GER) that another woman could take to the podium. Dagmar SALEN (SWE) was part of the Bronze Medal crew of 5 in the 6 Metre Class. After the break in Olympic Games for World War II there were no women medallists until the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki (FIN). This time two women went home with medals Vibeker LUNDE (NOR) won the Silver Medal as part of the crew of 3 in the 5.5 Metre Class and Emelyn WHITON was one of 6 crew members who took the Gold Medal in the 6 Metre Class.

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