NEWSFLASH – Brazil wins 49erFX gold by 2 seconds from New Zealand
The crowd on Flamengo Beach went wild as Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA) won gold by just two seconds from Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (NZL) in a nailbiting final run to the finish. New Zealand took silver and bronze went to Denmark’s Jena Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen (DEN). The team to miss out on a medal from the four-way battle was the Spanish crew of Tamara Echegoyen and Berta Betanzos (ESP).
With the wind blowing 12 to 15 knots, New Zealand launched off the left-hand end of the start line, Brazil got away cleanly from the middle while Denmark and Spain made messy starts on the right. Maloney and Meech got into a good lead on the first lap but led Brazil by just 13 seconds at the halfway stage of the three-lap race. At the bottom gate, the Kiwis chose the right-hand side and Brazil broke off to the left in search of something different. When they came back together again at the top of the course, Brazil’s alternative tactics had given them a ten-second lead.
Down the run to the finish the Kiwis attacked hard and made up ground on the Brazilians but somehow Grael and Kunze held on to get across the line just two seconds ahead.
After five-time Olympic medallist Robert Scheidt just missed out on a sixth medal in the Laser, finishing an agonising fourth, it was critical that the Brazilian 49erFX team came away with something from the final race of Rio 2016. To come away with gold has sent their home nation into ecstasy. When Grael and Kunze won gold at the Olympic Test Event a year ago, the Brazilian media went wild. But one can only imagine how big this will go now that they have become Olympic Champions.
Grael’s victory continues a great family tradition, her father Torben having won five Olympic medals for Brazil. Torben was watching from a coach boat and was one of the first to congratulate his daughter.
Maloney and Meech so nearly made it a Kiwi double in the Skiff classes after Pete Burling and Blair Tuke had won gold in the Men’s 49er. But any disappointment at missing 49erFX gold was swiftly case aside as the Kiwi girls celebrated taking the silver. Hansen and Salskov-Iversen beat the Spanish in the battle for bronze. The 49erFX was expected to deliver some of the most exciting and unpredictable racing at Rio 2016, but no one could have imagined that the gold would come down to the last two seconds.
By Andy Rice – World Sailing