Olympic Sailing over the last 20 years has seen an increase in profile and exposure within the worldwide media, as well as the overall image of the sport, and it is also becoming more spectator friendly and exciting.
Development in the arena of making the sport easier and more attractive to watch has been progressing since the 1988 Seoul Olympics when the country codes on athletes' sails did not even match the recognised IOC three letter country codes. By the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992, old country codes had been replaced with the now recognisable IOC three letter codes, which were larger than traditional sail letters. This coupled with the sailing regatta's prominent position in the Olympic host city, and an increase in the amount of on water coverage, accelerated the development.
This development continued in 1996 in Savannah (Atlanta), where media coverage was increased again - with live TV coverage, sailors' interviews, easily recognisable boats, again with large three letter codes denoting the athlete's country, as well as increasing use of the internet and live mark-by-mark rounding updates, all of which really raised awareness of the sport.
Then came Sydney 2000. A new class, the high performance, high spectator value, twin trapeze skiff was to make it's showcase in the natural amphitheatre of Sydney Harbour and with a perfect billboard advert for the sport, the visual aspect needed to be increased. In order to make things even more exciting for the thousands of sailing spectators around the headlands of Sydney Harbour, and worldwide, country flags were displayed on both mainsails and spinnakers.
49er Medal Winners in Sydney
Following on from the lessons and experiences learnt from Sydney, developments are underway to again display country flags on both mainsails and spinnakers for all eleven of the Olympic Sailing disciplines in 2004. At the Sailing Committee meeting last November in Cyprus, a working party was formed to examine the technical details and challenges facing this provision.
This working party will report it's progress at the Sailing Committee's mid-year meeting in Southampton (GBR) this coming weekend, 11-12 April, but decisions have already been made for the 2003 Athens Regatta, Pre-Olympic test event and boats in the 470 and Yngling classes will be required to display country flags on spinnakers. The Tornado and 49er spinnaker flags are still under development.