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Distinctive Competitive Aims

If something moves, somebody else wants to know how fast it goes. There's no denying it, the need for speed is in our blood. Some forms of racing are dominated by big budgets and sophisticated engineering. Others are enjoyed by people of modest means with little formal education. Each racing category has its own distinctive competitive aims.

A race is a competition of speed. The competitors in a race try to complete a given task in the shortest amount of time. Typically this involves traversing some distance, but it can be any other task involving speed. Races are often conducted in vehicles, such as boats, cars and aircraft. A race may be run continuously from start to finish or may be made of several segments called heats or stages (stages are also known as legs). A heat is usually run over the same course at different times. A stage is a shorter section of a much longer course or a time trial.

The first sailors of yachts were probably fishers of the prehistoric period who enjoyed leisure-time cruising or racing in their crude sailing craft. Sumptuously decorated pleasure boats were maintained by the privileged classes of ancient Egypt, China, Greece, and Rome; however, such craft were usually naval or commercial vessels fitted with luxurious appointments. The first boats designed solely for pleasure and sport were commissioned by Dutch nobility and merchants early in the 17th century. The word yacht itself is of Dutch origin, short for jachtschiff ("hunting ship"), a swift, maneuverable sailing vessel. Later in the 17th century Charles II popularized the sport in England after receiving a yacht as a gift from the Dutch people. In 1720 the first known formal organization of yachtsmen, the Cork Water Club, now the Royal Cork Yacht Club, was founded in Ireland. The oldest yachting organization in existence is the Royal Yacht Squadron, founded at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, in 1815 as the Royal Yacht Club of England.

Craft powered by inboard or outboard internal combustion engines has two main types of contests: the speed race and the so-called predicted-log race. Speed races are for high-powered craft; predicted-log races are between relatively slow-moving cabin cruisers, that is, craft equipped with living quarters. Motorboat racing in the U.S. is supervised by the American Power Boat Association (APBA), which was founded in 1903. Commissions within the APBA are the inboard, inboard endurance, professional outboard, stock outboard, unlimited outboard performance craft, drag, modified outboard, and offshore commissions.

Canoe and kayak racing is divided into two sections, flatwater events and whitewater slalom events. Men and women compete in both flatwater and whitewater kayaking, although the canoe competition in the Olympic Games is open only to men. The flatwater events are sprint races in calm water, with the craft required to stay in its a lane. Events are for single racers, pairs, or teams of four. Though two crafts race together in flatwater events, both are racing against time. The finalists are determined by heats (preliminary contests), with the top three finishers in the heats going to the semi-finals, while the rest go to "repechages" (second chance heats). The top three semifinalists in both heats move on to the finals where the top six finishes are determined. Whitewater events take place in rapidly moving water. Races are usually held on a man-made waterway which simulates water conditions found in the wilderness. Racing crafts navigate the course one at a time and must go through a series of gates, much like a slalom skier does. Races are timed, with a 2-sec penalty added if a competitor touches a gate and a 50-sec penalty added if a gate is missed entirely. Each competitor gets two runs, with the scores from both added to determine the winner. Whitewater boats are shorter than their flatwater counterparts for maximum maneuverability and have higher gunwales to prevent water intake.

Competitive rowing among organized crews is one of the oldest and most traditional sports. Races between oared galleys were held in ancient Egypt and Rome. The Thames River, England, is the setting for three of the most celebrated rowing events in the world: Doggett's Coat and Badge Race, the oldest rowing contest in the world, held annually since 1715; the annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge universities; and the Henley Royal Regatta. The Henley annually attracts the foremost crews and scullers of the world, including several from U.S. universities and schools.

The first bicycle races were held in France in 1868. Competitive events today range from short sprints and time trials to long-distance runs and 6-day races. In the Olympic Games, competitions in cycling are conducted in three categories: track, road, and mountain (cross-country, over rough terrain); and one leg of the triathlon is a bicycle race. Cycling (for men) has been part of the Olympics since the first modern games in 1896. Women cyclists won their first Olympic medals in 1984. Professional cyclists were not allowed to participate in the competition until 1996, competing in a record 14 events (8 for men, 6 for women). Long-distance races are generally run in stages, or from town to town. Probably the most renowned road race is the annual Tour de France (first held in 1903), run in daily stages mainly across France and Belgium. The course can also take riders into parts of Spain, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland.

The use of some kind of equipment for travel over snow is ancient. Greek historians mention skins, sliders, or shoes used for this purpose, and similar references occur in Norse myths. The earliest skis for which there is any record were found in bogs in Sweden and Finland. They are thought to be between 4000 and 5000 years old and consist of elongated curved frames covered with leather. The four types of downhill (alpine) races vary in the type and scale of the course to be covered. In downhill racing, the object is to move down a sharply descending slope in the fastest possible time in essentially a straight line. A second type of downhill racing is the slalom. Although this, too, is essentially a downhill movement, it involves a zigzagging movement down and across the surface of the slope. A third type of downhill racing is the giant slalom. It was introduced to international skiing after World War II and differs primarily in the scale of the course. In 1983 the super giant slalom (or Super G, as it is often called), a combination of downhill and giant slalom, was introduced to international skiing. Long, sweeping, high-speed turns make this event popular with spectators. Traditionally, Nordic competition includes both cross-country skiing and ski jumping. Cross-country skiing places greater emphasis on endurance and strength, and somewhat less on speed. Nevertheless, speed is also important in competitions.

The biathlon probably evolved from the practice in cold climates of hunting on skis. Later, soldiers in Europe who patrolled on skis had to ski exceptionally well and shoot accurately when necessary; they are thought to have been first deployed during the Great Northern War of 1700-.1721. It was a company of these ski soldiers who organized the first recorded biathlon competition in 1776. In 1912 the Norwegian military organized a race similar to the modern biathlon. In 1960 the modern biathlon was admitted as a medal sport for men; the women's biathlon was admitted in 1992

Though sport skiing dates back to the 19th century, it wasn't until the mid-1960s that the first board was made with the express purpose of carrying a passenger down a snow-covered hill. The "Snurfer," a precursor to the modern snowboard, consisted of a piece of plywood shaped roughly like a surfboard with a rope leash. The leash helped the rider stay on during the trip down the hill, and was then used to help pull the board back up the hill. The board was difficult to turn and the rider had no way to control its speed or direction. In the 1970s, manufacturers began to improve snowboard design for safety and maneuverability. By the early '80s, the first organized contests were held and snowboarders began sharing mountain slopes with more established skiers.

No one knows where people first learned to skate. The skate, however, found its origins in the ski, or the snow shoe, which was used by the Vikings to travel across snow-covered ground. The skate was a logical development that allowed the Vikings to cross frozen lakes. The development of the metal runner may be traced to Holland in 1400. It improved the traditional means of transport for the Dutch, who moved goods over frozen canals in winter. The first all-iron skates were developed in Scotland in 1572 and allowed speed skating to become an organized sport, developing into a sport before either figure skating or ice hockey. By the late 1500s, the sport began to resemble speed skating as it looks today and by the 18th century, its popularity had spread across northern Europe.

Sleds have been in existence for centuries, and sled racing may have been a sport even before ski racing-perhaps as early as the 15th century. The first international luge race, featuring 21 competitors from seven nations, took place in Switzerland in 1883. These early races were run on natural snow, and it wasn't until the development of the more flexible sled that luge moved to the more challenging, faster, artificial track.

Bobsledding first became popular late in the 19th century among the rich and adventurous in St. Moritz, where the first organized bobsled competition was held in 1898. The first racing sleds were constructed from two toboggans hitched together on a pivot to a wooden plank. These were soon replaced by steel sleds, which came to be known as bobsleds because riders used to bob back and forth to increase the speed of the sled - a technique that was phased out as sled design improved.

In 1904 an event in the Summer Olympic Games in Saint Louis, Mo., consisting of the long jump, shot put, and 100-yd dash was called triathlon but was not contested in the Olympics after that time. Early triathlons were considered unusual training exercises for runners. The earliest recorded swim-ride-run triathlons were organized by the San Diego Track Club and held at Mission Bay in San Diego, Calif., in 1974. John Collins, a club member and U.S. Navy officer, created the Ironman Triathlon when he combined three athletic events held in Oahu, Hawaii-the Waikiki Rough Water Swim, the Around-Oahu Bike Race, and the Honolulu Marathon-into one competition

Swimming was highly esteemed in ancient Greece and Rome, especially as a form of training for warriors. Competitions were held in Japan in the 1st century bc. Swimming fell into disuse almost entirely, however, in Europe during the Middle Ages when immersion in water was associated with recurrent epidemic diseases. The first modern Olympic Games, held in Athens in 1896, included swimming competition. In the U.S., competitive swimming was taken up at an early date; amateur clubs began to establish meets in the 1870s. While such clubs, especially on both seacoasts, have played an important role in the development of American swimming prowess, U.S. colleges and universities-most notably Yale University, Indiana University, and the University of Southern California-have been even more important in spreading interest in swimming as a competitive sport.

Swimming is a sport in which competition centers primarily on time. For that reason, in the past few decades swimmers have single-mindedly concentrated on breaking time records; extraordinary ingenuity and energy have been devoted to this objective. The astounding speed records of such great competitors as the American swimmers Duke Paoa Kahanamoku (1890-.1968), Johnny Weissmuller, Clarence "Buster" Crabbe (1908-.83), or Mark Spitz have been, or probably will be, eclipsed by performances equally astonishing. In addition, swimming is one of the five events in the modern pentathlon, which became an Olympic medal event in 1912.

Interest in ballooning as a sport was stimulated by the Gordon Bennett Balloon Trophy Races. The competition has been held annually, except for interruptions during World Wars I and II, since 1906, when the American journalist James Gordon Bennett donated the trophy. Sport ballooning still enjoys limited popularity in Europe, where hydrogen-filled balloons are used almost exclusively. In the U.S. in recent years a resurgence in interest has taken place in sport ballooning, using hot-air balloons that are kept aloft with butane or propane burners.

If the Olympic Games demonstrate anything, it is that the urge to be the fastest lies deep in the human soul. And from the earliest days of humankind this urge has had its practical rewards beyond mere glory. The fastest caveman, after all, caught the most gazelles.

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