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Sailing at the 1900 Paris Summer Games

1900 Summer Games: Next Summer Games

Sports:

Host City: Paris, France
Date Started: May 20, 1900
Date Finished: August 6, 1900
Events: 8

Participants: 96 (95 men and 1 women) from 6 countries
Youngest Participant: FRA Robert Gufflet (16 years, 350 days)
Oldest Participant: FRA William Martin (71 years, 212 days)
Most Medals (Athlete): FRA Jacques Baudrier and FRA Émile Michelet (3 medals)
Most Medals (Country): FRA France (24 medals)

Overview

Among Olympic historians, the results of the 1900 yachting events have been controversial for many years. By far, the best review of this topic has been undertaken by the first president of the International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH), Ian Buchanan, who was helped by Sweden’s Ture Widlund, the first Vice-President of ISOH. Buchanan looked at almost all the pertinent 1900 sources in yachting magazines from France, Germany, and Great Britain. He produced a summary of the competitions, which is reproduced here with permission.

Given the possible awarding of cash prizes, the “Olympic status” of this sport in 1900 must be in question. It is not exactly certain if the prizes were cash or “objets d’art” of the values listed, thus, for now, I have retained yachting as an Olympic sport in 1900.

A Review of Olympic Yachting – 1900; by Ian Buchanan

In common with many other sports at the 1900 Games, the yachting results are varied, incomplete and contradictory. While many important aspects remain intractable, I feel that the following represents the most comprehensive survey available of the 1900 Olympic Yachting Regatta. The results and comments which follow are the result not only of my own researches but equally those of Ture Widlund of Sweden. Valuable contributions have been made by Erich Kamper (Austria) and Bill Mallon (USA) and the major prime sources which have been used are: the 1900 Official Report, La Vie au Grande Air, Le Sport Universal Illustré, Yachting Gazette and Journal de la Marine (all of Paris), Yachting World, The Yachtsman, and The Field (all London), and Wassersport (Berlin).

The 1900 Olympic yachting regatta began with the Concours d’Honneur at Meulan on 20 May. The rules of competition required that all yachts intending to compete in the five individual classes (up to 10 tons) at Meulan over the next few days took part in the Concours – or “Open Class” as it is sometimes known. The almost complete absence of any wind caused considerable problems. It is known that at least 49 yachts started but only seven completed the course within the time limit and of the seven finishers, two, “Mamie” and “Carabinier”, were disqualified for using “other means of propulsion than the sail.”

After a break of one day, the Olympic regatta continued on 22 May when the first race for the less than one ton, ½-1 ton, and 1-2 tons classes was held. As was the case with the Concours d’Honneur, the competing yachts in these three events engaged in what was effectively a mass-start with only a brief interval between the scheduled starting time for each yacht. Precise details of the individual starting times are shown in the Journal de Marine of 26 May 1900. The congestion which this caused is described in Yachting World (7 June) as follows: “The river was absolutely blocked with vessels of all shapes, rigs and sizes, and it became exceedingly difficult to keep clear of each other. The big vessels, which had started later, brought up a breeze with them and ran right up to the smaller craft, so that at the turning mark every boat was huddled up together.” Interestingly, Yachting World also reports that 65 boats competed but from the results which follow it will be seen that not all of these have been identified. The same report in Yachting World states the races for the international prizes given by the French Exhibition were from 30 tons to 0.5 tons but there is no mention of a 30 ton class in the 1900 Official Report.

Similar congested conditions prevailed on the second (24 May) and third day (25 May) of sailing but the classes involved in the mass-start were slightly different. In addition to the events at Meulan, two Olympic events – 10-20 tons and over 20 tons – were held at Le Havre (1-6 August). The 10-20 tons event was the only 1900 Olympic event where the final placements were decided on the aggregate result of three separate races. Initially, historians did not consider the 10-20 tons to be an Olympic event but an advertisement in The Field (14 July) inviting entries leaves no doubt as to its affiliation with the Paris Exhibition.

The over 20 tons class was decided by one straight race but for the smaller classes held at Meulan there were two completely separate races with no overall aggregate winner being declared. In those classes where there were two races, Erich Kamper and Bill Mallon have, in the past, favored a method of combining the results to decide an overall winner, based on either overall time or points. I do not share this view as I feel that to retroactively “adjust” history in this way, in order to fall in line with modern practice, is not only incorrect but also fraught with danger.

Following a less far-fetched line of reasoning, the allocation of the prize money provides ample evidence that the two races in the smaller classes were indeed treated quite separately. For example, in the 3-10 tons class the winner of the first race received 1,500 FFr and the winner of the second race 2,000 FFr. Of particular importance is the fact that having awarded prizes for the two separate races there was no prize for an overall winner. Whether or not the award of cash prizes should preclude the 1900 yachting events from being considered to be of Olympic calibre is not a matter I propose to pursue in depth here. However, any review of the matter should bear in mind that an “adverse” decision would embrace other sports such as shooting and archery.

Medalists