Grael and Kunze (BRA) Repeat Gold with Courage and Smarts
The Brazilian 49erFX Champions repeated their Rio performance after beating their challengers in another incredibly tight medal race. Sailing as always with courage, guts, and smarts, Grael and Kunze (BRA) worked hard to win the boat end of the start line, got the first shift, consolidated over the top of their challengers, and then extended forward cleanly with win comfortably in the end.
The Brazilians were tied on points heading into the final race with Annemiek Bekkering with Annette Duetz (NED) who continued to sail to their strengths by winning the pin end. Unfortunately for the Dutch, they didn’t have as clean a start as they would have liked and were blocked from a perfect lane by Norway and Argentina who went on to win and place second in the race.
The critical moments came halfway up the first beat. Both the Brazilians and Dutch headed toward each other from their respective sides, the main difference being the Brazilians were powered up and sailing alone, while the Dutch had to do a few ducks and sail in a controlled lane. For much of that convergence, the Brazilians were holding a half knot boat speed advantage which put them ahead when they converged. Brazil rounded cleanly in third, while the Dutch got mixed up with the bulk of the fleet and gradually fell back through the race as the traffic and a tough leeward mark rounding kept pushing them backward.
“This week was a very big challenge to come all the way from behind and little by little go up in the fleet, even having some other results, some not so good. It was really tough – every single point.” Martine Grael
Starting in the front row and sailing a safe but effective race was the German pair of Tina Lutz and Susann Beucke. The critical moment in their race came halfway down the first downwind. The German pair gybe set along with the Brazilians and Dutch, while Tamara Echegoyen with Paula Barcelo (ESP) straight-set to what turned out to be the favored side. As the German and Spanish came back together, the Spanish had to give way to the Germans as they were on port. By the most slim of margin, the Spanish spinnaker brushed the back of Lutz (GER) on the way by, a clear but unfortunate port/starboard foul for the Spanish, who were penalized and had to do a penalty turn.
The Germans continued onward, moving up into the fourth position by the second windward mark, ultimately finish in fifth, but moved into the Silver medal position based on the Dutch finishing more than two places behind them!
The German story is one of perseverance. They began racing together in 2007, missing out on selection in 2008 and 2012 in the 470, then again in the 49er in 2016. They stuck together, and improved their sailing through the quadrennial, winning two European Championships. They made it to Tokyo and have now converted their fifteen years of experience into a Silver medal.
For Annemiek Bekkering with Annette Duetz (NED), a Bronze medal is a wonderful prize, but they have some unfinished business at the front end of the fleet. The two burst onto the elite 49erFX scene winning back to back World Championships in 2018 and 2019. Perhaps covid threw off their momentum as they did not do much traveling or racing over the break, yet they were ever so close to the top.
The Spanish continued to factor in the race, but ultimately could not make up any ground and finished in fourth for the second consecutive Olympics. Let’s spare a moment for any team finishing twice at a games. Tamara did win gold in London 2012, and two 49erFX World Championships, but that is a heartbreaking result for one of the most popular sailors in the boat park.
Argentina continued their light air dominance in Tokyo by winning the medal race which moved them up the standings another position into fifth. They were incredibly close to a Bronze medal in the end, and had just one more boat finished ahead of the Spanish and Dutch they would have won a medal.
Britain, Norway, and Denmark filled places six through eight overall. Each of these teams had medal performances through the quadrennial and would have been dreaming of medaling at the Games. For the British, they had such a great start to the regatta, but could not hold that lead as the regatta turned lighter. For Denmark and Norway, they each had a couple of days that didn’t go their way, and then the days that did go their way were not enough to move any higher.
France and Singapore round out the top 10. Each of these teams is in their first games and will take positives from the performances as they turn their eyes toward Paris.
Full results, photos, and stories about the 49erFX fleet.