Member of Team USA Competes in Paralympic SailingMember of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Sailing

Sailing

Sailing has been an integral part of transportation for millennia, though sailing for sport is thought to have originated in Holland in the 1600s. Among individuals with impairments, sailing as a sport started gaining traction in the 1980s, and in 1988 the International Handicap Sailing Committee, later renamed the International Foundation for Disabled Sailing, was formed. Around the world, adaptive sailing is a flexible sport, with athletes racing, cruising, or just ambling about at sea or on inland water.

This year’s Rio 2016 Paralympic Games mark the fifth edition of the Paralympic sailing competition, which debuted as a medal event at the Sydney 2000 Games. In this sport of technique and speed, athletes with different impairments compete together; in fact, outside Paralympic competition, sailors with impairments often compete alongside able-bodied sailors.

In the Paralympics, each sailor’s goal is to navigate the course the fastest, using only the wind to propel the vessel. The sport takes adaptability and quick thinking as changing natural elements—weather and wind—make each race unique.

 

TIMELINE:

1980s
The first international sailing competition designed for athletes with impairments takes place in Switzerland

1988
The International Handicap Sailing Committee, now called the International Foundation for Disabled Sailing, forms

1996
Sailing introduced as an exhibition sport at the Atlanta Paralympic Games

2000
Sailing debuts as a medal sport at the Sydney Games

EVENTS

Paralympic sailing consists of three non–gender specific medal events: single-person keelboat, two-person keelboat and three-person keelboat.

Competitions take place over a series of races, and (as in golf) the lowest point total wins. In each race, sailors are awarded points based on their finishing position (one point for first, two for second, etc.). The top 10 compete in a final race worth double the number of points. The sailor with the lowest cumulative point total at the end of the final race wins.

EQUIPMENT

The event course is marked with buoys, and two boats mark the starting line. But each Paralympic sailing event has its own unique keelboat, and boats can be configured to suit different sailors’ needs. Single-person races take place in the 2.4mR, a dual-sail, single-hull boat that is 4.16 meters (14 feet) long and weighs 260 kilograms (573 pounds). This boat debuted at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games.

Two-person teams race in the SKUD-18, a three-sail, single-hull boat reaching 5.8 meters (19 feet) in length and weighing about 400 kilograms (882 pounds). This vessel debuted at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.

Three-person races feature the Sonar, a two-sail, single-hull boat reaching 7 meters (23 feet) and weighing almost 1,000 kilograms (2,205 pounds). Like the 2.4mR, the Sonar debuted at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. All Paralympic sailing boats are more stable and spacious than Olympic boats, allowing the crew to move around more easily.

FAST FACTS

Listen to the wind: Leeward is the side of the boat protected from the wind, while windward describes the side of the boat blown by the wind. A windsock is a cylindrical flag used to indicate the wind’s direction.

Equal opportunity: In two- and three-person events, at least one sailor on each crew must be a woman.

Penalties: Sailors who are penalized for rule infringements must make a penalty turn before continuing around the course.

A sport for the blind: Sailing competition has been organized for blind and visually impaired athletes since 1979, and it has progressively become more widespread in these circles. Since 1992, there have been eight world sailing championships for the blind and visually impaired.

And the winner is…: Americans Nick Scandone and Maureen Mckinnon-Tucker won gold at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games in the debut of the two-person SKUD-18 race.

Athlete Spotlight:

Maureen McKinnon

In August 1992, Maureen McKinnon was in Rockland, Maine for a sailing race. Walking her bicycle back toward the ferry landing, she tripped over a bit of rope and fell 13 feet over a seawall. She landed in a sitting position in the sand and immediately knew what had happened to her—she had broken her spine and was paralyzed from the waist down.

After the accident, her old boats were too difficult to manage, but the typical boats for those with impairments didn’t challenge her. After a seven-year break, Dr. Rick Doerr, another wheelchair-bound sailor, introduced her to the Sonar. McKinnon had found her new boat.

McKinnon and Doerr's bid for the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games was unsuccessful, so she set her sights on Beijing. She teamed up with skipper Nick Scandone, an athlete who had been diagnosed with ALS in 2002 and was predicted not to live past 2008. It was his last chance to be a Paralympian, so even when McKinnon’s two-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer, the two pushed on. They finished first in the trials for the SKUD-18 event, making McKinnon the first U.S. woman to join a Paralympic sailing team. Their winning streak continued in Beijing: They earned the first and only gold medal in the sport for Team USA to date. Just months later, Scandone passed away. Fortunately, McKinnon’s son recovered from his cancer.

Since her Paralympic debut, McKinnon has mostly been sailing for pleasure and with the youth at Piers Park, where she was the adaptive sailing coordinator for five years. In Rio, 50-year-old McKinnon will be racing with her new partner, Ryan Porteous of San Diego. She is thrilled to have the chance to go back to the Games.

Althete Spotlight Maureen McKinnon

CLASSIFICATION

Paralympic sailing is open to male and female athletes with a physical impairment, including amputationDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. or limb loss, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsyDefinition: Damage to the central nervous system., dwarfism or brain injury, as well as those with a visual impairment. Some athletes may use a wheelchair in daily life, while others are ambulatory. Some athletes with amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. may compete with prostheses.

Note: The models presented below are examples. A classification evaluation must be performed to determine an athlete’s sport class(es).

Physical Impairment

Visual Impairment

Intellectual Impairment

Athletes are categorized into sport classes 1–7 based on how their impairment affects their athletic performance. In three-person events, each crew is allowed a maximum of 14 points split among the athletes (so, for example, sport class 7 + sport class 3 + sport class 4 = 14 points). In two-person events, one athlete must be sport class 1 or 2.

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

1

Athletes with the most severe impairments compete in sport class 1. These athletes have severely restricted control or movement in their arms caused by quadriplegiaDefinition: A permanent condition in which you may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the trunk and/or the arms, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord; also called <i>tetraplegia</i>., amputated arms through the shoulders or an equivalent eligible impairment.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

2

Like those in sport class 1, these athletes have impairments that severely affect their sailing function such as arm amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body..

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Range of
Severity

3

Athletes in sport class 3 may have amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. of the arms and legs or an equivalent impairment. Athletes with the most severe visual impairments also compete in sport class 3.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

4

Athletes in sport class 4 may have a range of impairments, including amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. of the arms or legs.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

5

Sport class 5 athletes may have a range of impairments, including amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. of the arms or legs. Athletes with moderate visual impairments also compete in sport class 5.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

6

Class 6 athletes may have a range of impairments, including amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. of the arms or legs.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

7

Class 7 athletes may have a range of impairments, including amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. of the arms or legs. Athletes with mild visual impairments also compete in sport class 7.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

Athletes with visual impairments may compete in sport classes 3, 5 or 7 alongside physically impaired athletes.

3

5

7

3

Athletes with the most severe visual impairments compete in sport class 3. These athletes have very low visual acuity and little to no light perception.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

5

Athletes with moderate visual impairments compete in sport class 5. These athletes have a higher visual acuity than those with severe impairments, but with a visual field of less than 5 degrees radius.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

7

Athletes with the least severe visual impairment eligible for Paralympic sport compete in sport class 7. They have the highest visual acuity, but with a visual field of less than 20 degrees radius.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional