US Sailing’s Junior Olympic Sailing Program is a nationwide series of sailing regattas for youth ages 8 to 18.
Each event in this family of regattas is hosted by a different club or sailing organization but all events share a common goal: to encourage young sailors to enjoy sailing, to develop their sailing skills and become lifetime sailors. Events mix Olympic-style competition with elements of fun and learning at all levels, from beginning racers to those with Olympic aspirations. This year 30 events are planned for waters in the continental United States and Hawaii and 5,000 sailors are expected to compete. Junior Olympic Sailing is coordinated by US Sailing and sponsored nationally by Gill, Sperry, New England Ropes, Zim Sailing and KO Sailing.
Junior Olympic (JO) sailing was started in 1997 by US Sailing. The goal of the program is to draw more young sailors to the sport through this nationwide family of events. Each regatta offers youth sailors the opportunity to learn, enjoy the fun and excitement of competitive sailing and develop skills for a lifelong involvement in the sport. The series is designed to both grow the grassroots of the sport and to give talented junior sailors an Olympic pathway. Over 50,000 sailors have participated since the program began in 1997.
The Olympic Path
For junior sailors with world-class ambitions, JO events provide an opportunity to compete in large, regional fleets with Olympic-style racing. Sailors who excel at JO events typically progress to the national arena. US Sailing organizes the U.S. Youth Sailing Championship and U.S. Junior Championships in single-, double-, and triple-handed classes in co-ed and women’s competition. Some of these events are open to all who enter; others select the fleet via an elimination ladder in each region or by resume. U.S. Olympians of the future typically emerge from the ranks racing at the national youth championships.
Junior Olympic Program Goals:
Engage young people in the excitement of sailing
Encourage young sailors to enjoy racing
Increase participation locally, regionally and nationally through USA Junior Olympic Festivals
Improve skills of young sailors through training
Define a path for achievement from an early age to adulthood
Many youth take their first step into competitive sailing at JO events, and some event organizers target their educational and fun elements specifically to the entry-level sailor. The most rapid area of development within the JO series is this grassroots effort: the art of making the sport fun for these new sailors while helping them gain the skills they need to thrive on the water and enjoy the game. The long-term goal is to give these young sailors a foundation they can build on for a lifetime of enjoyment on the water.
Trophies & Prizes
The prize giving ceremony at the end of each JO event is similar to that at the Olympic Games, and class winners step up to the podium to collect Gold, Silver, and Bronze Junior Olympic medals. Events celebrate not only winners, but all those who participate and competitors who exhibit the virtues of sportsmanship. Special fun prizes and sportsmanship awards are presented at many JO events.
Thirty events are planned for venues in the continental United States and Hawaii. Each JO regatta is hosted by a different yacht club or community sailing organization. All events share a common goal, but each host executes those goals in their own unique way. Some organizers put a strong emphasis on activities for entry-level sailors–with special divisions for first-time racers; fun activities such as scavenger hunts and build-a-boat contests; and games for children under 8 years old who are too young to compete. Some highlight skill building, with clinics conducted by intercollegiate coaches, All-American college racers, or even Olympic medalists.
The types of boats and windsurfers sailed at each regatta varies from event to event, but many classes that are popular in junior racing are used at JO events. Boats are generally 8 to 14 feet in length and are manned by one to two sailors. All boats used in JO racing are one-design classes, where the boats are identical in hull shape, rig configuration, and speed. Among the classes that are popular in JO competition are the Optimist, Laser, Byte, Sunfish, Open Bic, El Toro, Club 420, 29er and RS boats. The Laser and Laser Radial are the only classes that is used in both Olympic and Junior Olympic competition. Sailors typically travel to JO events with their own boats, but some events make boats available to youth who do no own their own boat.
Sponsors & Organizers
The Junior Olympic Sailing Program is sponsored nationally by Gill, one of the world’s leading suppliers of technical sailing gear; Sperry, the leading global nautical performance and lifestyle brand since 1935, and New England Ropes, a world leader in rigging, dock and anchor line products that combine superior quality and durability with unsurpassed reliability and value.
Sailing is only one of the many sports that offer Junior Olympic programs. Junior Olympic competition is coordinated by the National Governing Body (NGB) of each sport. The first JO programs date back to the late 1970s and some 40 NGBs in the United States run JO programs or events today. Junior Olympics come under the umbrella of the Olympic movement, for each NGB is a member of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).
Event Hosts Needed
US Sailing is expanding its JO event schedule. Perhaps you can bring the Junior Olympics to your area. A JO event can be the spark that ignites your youth sailing program. If your club has the expertise to host a youth regatta that incorporates competition, education and fun, please contact Lee Parks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401.366.3126.