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How Do You Qualify For The Olympics In Sailing?

By Laurie Fullerton | Jan. 25, 2016, 5:32 p.m. (ET)

The ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami is always a marquee event on the sport’s schedule. This year’s event, taking place Jan. 25-30, has added importance: U.S. sailors in eight of the 10 Olympic sailing classes will be competing for berths on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team.

Team USA is guaranteed to have one entry in seven of the 10 classes in Rio de Janeiro, and can earn a quota spot in each of the three remaining classes at the world cup in Miami. Those spots will be filled based on results over two major international events for each class.

Here’s the list of where and when the two selection events take place for each class:

Laser, RS:X Men* and RS:X Women:

First Event: ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami; Miami, Florida, Jan. 25–30, 2016

Second Event: Trofeo SAR Princess Sofia; Palma de Mallorca, Spain, March 26-April 2, 2016

Laser Radial:

First Event: ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami; Miami, Florida, Jan. 25–30, 2016

Second Event: Laser Radial Europeans; Las Palmas Grand Canaria, Spain, Feb. 26 – March 5, 2016


First Event: ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami; Miami, Florida, Jan. 25–30, 2016

Second Event: Finn Europeans; Barcelona, Spain, March 5-12, 2016

470 Men and 470 Women:

First Event: 470 World Championships; San Isidro, Argentina, Feb. 20-27, 2016

Second Event: 470 Europeans; Palma de Mallorca, Spain, April 5-12

49er*, 49erFX* and Nacra 17:

First Event: ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami; Miami, Florida, Jan. 25–30, 2016

Second Event: 49er and Nacra 17 World Championships; Clearwater, Florida, Feb. 7 –14, 2016

*Quota spot has yet to be earned

“Our main focus is Rio, the end game,” said Josh Adams, managing director of U.S. Olympic Sailing. “So these two high-quality selection events are vastly important to the sailors, but we are still maintaining focus for all on Rio.”

To get to Rio, the U.S. sailors will have to perform well against international teams, but also against their U.S. teammates.

The U.S. Olympic Team will be determined based off the sailors’ finishing positions from their respective class’s two events. The U.S. boat with the lowest series score will be the nominee for Rio.

So, for example, if a U.S. competitor finishes fifth overall in its first qualifying competition and third overall in the second competition, then that competitor would accumulate a total of eight points (5+3=8).

In the event of a tie, the highest-finishing U.S. boat involved in the tie at the second event will get the nod.

Fans will have to wait to find out who those sailors will be, but to get a preview Adams suggests looking at the recently released roster for the national team, known as 2016 US Sailing Team Sperry.

“Their performance to date and selection to the US Sailing Team Sperry are good indicators of who is sailing well in their respective classes,” Adams said.

Stuart McNay and David Hughes in the men’s 470 two-person dinghy, who were named to the US Sailing Team Sperry last week, are current European champions. McNay is a two-time Olympian, having competed at Beijing and London in the 470.

“Stuart and David have shown they are ready to perform and contend at the Olympics,” Adams said. “US Sailing Team Sperry has several other contenders, including a strong group of top women sailors across the Laser Radial, 470 and 49erFX classes.”

The Finn class is the heavyweight dinghy. Although an American has never won a gold medal in the Finn Class, Zach Railey won a silver medal in 2008. The two-time Olympian (and brother of 2012 U.S. Olympic sailor Paige Railey) returned to the world championships last fall, his first international championship event since the London Games.

The Rio Games will mark the Olympic debut of the Nacra 17 catamaran, and the high-speed boat represents the largest group of American sailors competing for Olympic berths.

“In general, Olympic sailing today is all lightweight and high-performance boats demanding athleticism. But experience is still king,” Adams said. “Some of the top international Nacra sailors have quite a lot of experience. For USA, it is going to be an interesting next couple of months to see who makes the Olympic team.”

There is no question, too, that with these lightweight performance boats, the sailors tend to have very little separation between themselves and the waters they sail through. That’s particularly important going into these Games, as sailors will have to adapt to the complicated currents of Guanabara Bay, and the traditional light winds in August are also challenging for Olympic-level sailors.

Adams downplayed those challenges.

“We have invested a lot of time in studying the area where the Olympics will be held,” Adams said. “Rio is not a regular stop on the international Olympic sailing circuit; it is new to all of us.”

Laurie Fullerton writes about sports and outdoors — particularly sailing — for a number of newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.