Oh, what a golden finish it was for Brazil in the Rio Olympics sailing regatta.
Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze sent their fellow Brazilians into a frenzy on Flamengo Beach on Thursday after holding off the New Zealand crew by two seconds to win the gold medal in the women’s 49erFX class, which was making its Olympic debut.
The host country’s only sailing medal of the games, it came in the last race of the regatta.
It added to the legacy of the Grael family, and it launched quite the party.
Grael and Kunze hugged after the finish and then flipped backward off the skiff into Guanabara Bay. They then capsized their boat, and the celebration was on.
Several family members and friends jumped into the surf to celebrate.
As their skiff approached the shore, a few dozen people waded into the water, lifted the craft and carried it up to the beach, with the sailors standing on top of it.
“I’ve never had that feeling before,” Grael said. “It was indescribable. It’s actually how I hoped I could be taken out of the water.”
Grael’s father, Torben, who counts two golds among his five Olympic medals, watched the race from a coach boat. He smiled as he watched as the medal was draped around his daughter’s neck, against the backdrop of Sugarloaf Mountain.
“When he was watching us get the medal, he was very emotional, and that made me emotional as well,” Martine Grael said. “I’m just proud to be part of the family.”
The 49erFX is new to the Olympics. It’s similar to the men’s 49er.
“I think with all the people cheering for us, it was really a big emotion for us,” Kunze said. “I think for Brazil it’s special, this medal. We feel we are representing a lot of things, like girls and sailing and sports, I was not expecting so much warmth from the Brazilian people. We were very pleased with such a reception.”
Watching the shore side celebration was Robert Scheidt, who finished fourth in the Laser to just miss becoming the first sailor and Brazilian to win six Olympic medals.
Denmark’s Jena Hansen and Katja Steen Salskov-Iversen won the bronze.
In the men’s 49er, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke capped a dominant four years of sailing by winning the medal race to confirm the gold they’d clinched two days ago.
The Kiwis upgraded the silver they won at London in 2012. They had won 27 straight regattas until finishing third in the South American Championships here last month.
Showing just how much better they are than the rest of the fleet, the Kiwis sailed a tactically perfect final race, leading the whole way. They put their arms around each other and clenched their fists in triumph just before crossing the line, and then capsized their boat in celebration.
“Blair and myself obviously have to have a celebration,” Burling said. “It’s been a massive amount of hard work and dedication toward this goal for a long time so we’re going to try and have a little bit of time off, but now it `s pretty much back straight into the America’s Cup world after this.”
The duo sail for Emirates Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup, with Burling serving as skipper. They get just less than two weeks off before heading for the next America’s Cup World Series regatta.
Defending gold medalists Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen of Australia took the silver. They sail for Sweden’s Artemis Racing in the America’s Cup.
Bronze went to Germany’s Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel. They both jumped into the water in celebration, and tipped their boat over. Last year, Heil was treated for infections he blamed on the polluted water in Guanabara Bay.
The water “was much better this year,” Heil said.
Earlier, Annie Haeger and Briana Provancha of the United States were in the silver medal position in the women’s 470 finale but dropped to sixth and then fouled the Japanese boat, dropping them to last place in the 10-boat race and out of the medals.
That means the United States finished with just one medal, Caleb Paine’s bronze in the Finn. Four years ago, the Americans failed to win an Olympic sailing medal for the first time since 1936.
“Obviously we were disappointed that we didn’t perform today,” Provancha said. “But we really gave it our all and fought really hard. It’s just not our time right now. It doesn’t take away how proud I am of what we’ve done and how awesome this team’s been.”
Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark of Britain had clinched the gold two days earlier and needed just to finish the medal race to collect it. New Zealand’s Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie, the 2012 gold medalists, took the silver and Camille Lecointre and Hélène Defrance of France won bronze.
In the men’s 470, Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic won the first Olympic sailing gold medal for Croatia.
Australia’s Mathew Belcher and Will Ryan took the silver after a tight battle against Greece’s Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis, who got the bronze.
Belcher won the gold medal in London four years ago with Malcolm Page, who then retired from Olympic sailing.