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Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze provided the 10-day sailing programme on Guanabara Bay with a heartstopping finale, as they claimed a surprise gold for Brazil in a tightly contested women’s 49erFX class.
In what was the last and perhaps most hotly disputed medal race of the 10-day Rio Olympic Regatta, Jena Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen of Denmark won bronze, pushing Spain's Tamara Echegoyen Dominguez and Berta Betanzos Moro, who stood first overall before the medal race, off the podium.
Grael's win, which sparked wild celebrations among the local spectators, took the number of Olympic medals won for Brazil by her family to eight. Her father Torben, who is now the Brazilian sailing team’s head coach, has five - two gold, one silver and two bronze - and her uncle Lars has two, both bronze.
Going into the medal race, Spain, Brazil, New Zealand and Denmark had been separated by only one point at the top. At one point the Brazilians trailed their New Zealand rivals by 26 points, but battled back to edge home first with a two-second advantage.
After taking a victory plunge into the waters of Guanabara Bay, Grael and Kunze sailed towards the shore and celebrated with fans who swam out to greet them, led by Torben Grael.
In contrast to the women’s event, the winners of the men’s 49er class were known ahead of the medal race, with New Zealand duo of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke having opened up an uncatchable lead over their nearest rivals. In a reversal of the London 2012 podium, Australian pair Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen who took the gold four years earlier, had to settle for silver.
The New Zealand pair, who took silver at London 2012, said their victory in Rio was reward for eight years of hard work striving for an Olympic title.
“Blair and myself obviously have to have a celebration,” said a delighted Burling. “We've put everything into the last four years and even the four years before that. To put so much work in and for it to come together on a week like this is amazing.”
Outteridge, competing at his third Olympics and with a gold medal already to his name, said the Games remained every bit as exciting as when he first competed.
“It's always been a passion and a dream to get to the Olympics… This is my third Olympics now and winning a gold and a silver out of three is a pretty good track record.”
The bronze went to German pair Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel, competing at their first Olympic Games, and who pushed their experienced Australian rivals all the way in the battle for second. “I'm really happy to have won that medal,” beamed Ploessel. It’s something I have always dreamed of. It's a good introduction for us for to our first ever Olympics.”
Great Britain’s Saskia Clark and Hannah Mills, who were silver medallists in the women’s 470 class at London 2012, held a 20-point lead going into the last day so only needed to finish the medal race to be sure of gold. In the end they finished eighth, which was enough for a 10-point victory margin. New Zealand's Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie won silver, while French duo Camille Lecointre and Helene Defrance took bronze, nudging the USA pair off the podium late on.
“The first moment I sailed with Hannah, I knew we could do something special,” said Clark. “We have been together through ups and downs and been with each other all the way.” Mills added: “This is all we have ever dreamed of and we are so happy.”
Meanwhile, silver medallist Aleh was relieved to make it onto the podium after what she described as a tough competition: “We're pretty stoked. We've battled all week and it was a hard medal race.”
Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic won Croatia’s first ever Olympic sailing gold when they clinched the men’s 470 class, overcoming a stiff challenge from Australia’s
“I’m proud of our Croatia team,” said Fantela. “I’m grateful for these guys around me because they push us forward.” In an event so often won by crews from the southern hemisphere, Fantela said that watching the Australians had helped drive his own team forward.
“Australia has always set a training goal for us. this was a part of our motivation. We proved to ourselves that the way we were training worked and we just need to stick to the plan. That is the reason we are sitting here right now."
“We all knew it was going to be a fight until the end,” said Australian Ryan. “It may not have been pretty, but it was tough racing.”
Meanwhile, Pavlos Kagialis of the Greek crew hailed a long-awaited sailing medal for his country. “It has been too many years,” he said. “This medal is a gift to all of the sailors back home.”