Only the top ten boats across each of the eleven Olympic events will proceed through to the Medal Race final, based on their points score from the opening series.
The 2006 Olympic Test Event is now in the concluding days of racing, and whilst some of the leading boats are assured of making it through to the ten-boat Medal Race, there is still a close battle amongst the rest of the fleet to secure sufficient points to hold their places within the top ten.
Two race courses will be used for the Medal Race. Both are positioned immediately adjacent to the harbour wall, which forms the perimeter between the on shore Olympic venue and race courses on Fushan Bay.
Providing the perfect spectator platform for Medal Race viewing, throughout the regatta spectators have crowded the 500 metre long harbour wall, with stands dotted along the promenade providing refreshments and souvenirs of the regatta. Volunteers provide updates on the action from the race course.
During the Olympic Games, plans include the construction of large screens along the wall showing the live television footage and commentary from the Medal Races. Spectator boats will also deliver fans to the race course.
During the 2006 Test Event, two races courses will be used for the Medal Races, Areas A and B. These will be positioned as close to the harbour wall as the weather conditions allow, with Course A given the prime location.
The Medal Races are scheduled for Wednesday 30 August, with Thursday 31 as a reserve day if required. During the Olympic Games, the Medal Races will be staggered with one Medal Race scheduled per day.
The race format on Course A will be windward leeward, with a trapezoid course format on Area B. The trapezoid format, using inner and outer loops, will allow two fleets to race at the same time, one on the outer loop and the other on the inner.
The top ten boats making the cut will carry their net points score (results of all races in opening series, except their worst result) through to the Medal Race. During the opening series, results are calculated using the 'low point scoring' system, with a competitor's race points equating to their finishing place in the race, so the first placed boat gets 1 point, second 2 points and so on.
Results in the Medal Race will be scored using a double-points system, with the first place finisher scoring 2 points, second place 4 points, third place 6 points and so on.
At past Olympic Sailing Competitions, some competitors have achieved such a significant points advantage over the fleet, that they secured the Gold Medal without needing to sail the last race. Whilst a sailors' performance was key to this achievement, with the scoring system allowing two discards, a competitor could afford to take more risks in the series.
The Medal Race is designed to be the climax of the Olympic Competition, and ISAF has therefore changed the scoring system to only allow one discard in the opening series, and as a result the likelihood of a sailor securing the gold medal before the Medal Race becomes unlikely.
All boats qualified to the Medal Race, regardless of their overall position going into the race, are required to make a genuine effort to start the race, sail the course and finish.
All competitors qualifying to the Medal Race are required to sail the race, and cannot discard their Medal Race result. With the double-points scoring system adding hefty points to their scores if they finish towards the back of the fleet competitors will be aiming for a significant result in the Medal Race.
For the Medal Race only, ISAF has introduced 'direct judging' with the intent that all incidents are decided on the water, so when the boats cross the finish line the medallists are known.
Commenting on the introduction of the Medal Race, Chief Umpire at the 2006 Test Event, John DOERR (GBR), commented, 'The Medal Race promises to be an exciting development for Olympic sailing and the introduction of Umpired Fleet racing to the Olympics also present new challenges to athletes and umpires alike. This will utilize and build on the expertise developed in the match and teams racing areas of the sport for the benefit of the athletes, media and spectators.'
During the Medal Race, competitors can only protest each other for 'boat-to-boat' incidents and if another boat 'touches a mark'. Competitors are required to signal that they have made a protest by displaying a red flag and hailing 'Protest', with those protested against either taking the penalty as soon as possible after the incident, or if the competitors don't take a penalty, then the on the water judges, more often referred to as umpires, will make a ruling. The umpire ruling will rule either be:
'No Penalty' - signalled by the umpire displaying a green and white flag and one whistle blow, or
'Penalty' - signalled by the umpire displaying a red flag, one whistle blow and hailing the identity of the boat
Whilst the aim is that all protests are determined on the water, competitors may still protest or request redress immediately after finishing for incidents that they cannot protest whilst racing.
The racing schedule for tomorrow Wednesday 30 August is:
ISAF developed the Medal Race format to create an exciting and understandable competition, with a focus on the final Olympic medal deciding race. Equally, ISAF has designed the Medal Race to retain the principles of the sport, with the performance of sailors in the opening series rewarded as they proceed through to the Medal Race.
The feat of securing an Olympic Medal before the final race is an outstanding achievement for a sailor, but at past Olympics securing medals in this way has also been detrimental to the sport, with lost potential in media coverage and confusion in the competition format - not a desirable outcome in the Olympic arena.
In changing the Olympic format, ISAF benefited from open and progressive meetings with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS), and all three organizations will continue to work together to deliver an outstanding 2008 Olympic Sailing Competition, both on the race course and through the television coverage.
Most sports and events, from the elite Olympic level down, have had to make changes to their format and scoring systems in order to maintain their niche in the very competitive world of international sport, retain the media and fans' interest, and ensure the sport remains attractive to the next generation of participants. Sailing is no different.