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2016 Nominee: Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze

Published on November 2nd, 2016

The Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards is the most prestigious award of recognition in the sport of sailing, with five nominees in 2016 under consideration in the Male and Female categories. Meet nominee Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze…

Picture the scene. It’s the final opportunity to win a medal at the Olympic Sailing Competition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Flamengo Beach is buzzing with expectant spectators with millions more watching on TV across Brazil. You have the weight of an expectant nation on your shoulders as you head into a four way shoot out for gold.

You have a slow start. You fight back. You never give up. You take the lead. Your rivals inch closer. You look ahead and you’ve won gold by two mere seconds!

Seems like a fairy tale ending doesn’t it? But this all played out for the darlings of Brazilian sailing, 49erFX sailors Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze.

Since the 49erFX was introduced in to the Olympic programme, there have been gains made at different points within the quadrennial and with four separate world champions, it was always going to be a wide open field at Rio 2016.

The nomination period begun for the Brazilian girls in neighbouring Argentina where they took two silver medals in quick succession at the South American Championships and World Championships.

Mixed results followed in the Sailing World Cup series and 2016 World Championships in which they only finished on the podium once, at Sailing World Cup Hyeres.

With two wins from two Olympic Test Events, Grael and Kunze returned home to sail in the South American Championships just ahead of the summer showpiece. They placed just outside the medals in fourth, the first time they had not won on the waters of Guanabara Bay during the quad. But this would only spur them on.

Just like every 49erFX regatta that had gone before, there was no clear favourite. It wasn’t outside the realms of possibility that an outsider could come out of nowhere to win in the wide open class.

As racing started there were mixed results for all teams. Podium positions changed constantly. The wide open class was, well, wide open.

It would all come down to the Medal Race, the very final race of the Olympic Sailing Competition. It was Brazil’s last hope of winning a sailing medal and Grael and Kunze were in contention. They were one of four teams that could win gold, but they were also one of four teams who could leave with nothing.

Almost predictably the final race was a game of cat and mouse. New Zealand’s Alex Maloney and Molly Meech seemed to have taken the initiative and were leading the way, but it wasn’t over for the home team. They chose the opposite side of the race course to their Kiwi rivals. It had paid off. They were leading on the last downwind leg, but the New Zealander’s were chasing hard.

Grael and Kunze held off the challenge and claimed gold by just two seconds. When they hit the shores of Flamengo Beach they were greeted by an adoring crowd who lifted them out of the water to celebrate a famous victory.

The announcement of the 2016 Rolex World Sailors of the Year will be made on Tuesday November 8 in Barcelona, Spain, the host city of the World Sailing’s 2016 Annual Conference. The nominees in 2016 are:

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL)
Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic (CRO)
Santiago Lange (ARG)
Giles Scott (GBR)
Damien Seguin (FRA)

Marit Bouwmeester (NED)
Cecilia Carranza Saroli (ARG)
Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA)
Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark (GBR)
Charline Picon (FRA)

Previous recipients of the Rolex World Sailor of the Year Award include:
2015 Peter Burling & Blair Tuke (NZL), Sarah Ayton (GBR)
2014 James Spithill (AUS), Martine Grael & Kahena Kunze (BRA)
2013 Mat Belcher (AUS), Jo Aleh & Polly Powrie (NZL)
2012 Ben Ainslie (GBR), Lijia Xu (CHN)
2011 Iker Martinez & Xabier Fernandez (ESP), Anna Tunnicliffe (USA)
2010 Tom Slingsby (AUS), Blanca Manchon (ESP)
2009 Torben Grael (BRA), Anna Tunnicliffe (USA)
2008 Ben Ainslie (GBR), Alessandra Sensini (ITA)
2007 Ed Baird (USA), Claire Leroy (FRA)
2006 Mike Sanderson (NZL), Paige Railey (USA)
2005 Fernando Echavarri & Anton Paz (ESP), Ellen MacArthur (GBR)
2004 Robert Scheidt (BRA), Sofia Bekatorou & Emilia Tsoulfa (GRE)
2003 Russell Coutts (SUI), Siren Sundby (NOR)
2002 Ben Ainslie (GBR), Sofia Bekatorou & Emilia Tsoulfa (GRE)
2001 Robert Scheidt (BRA), Ellen MacArthur (GBR)
2000 Mark Reynolds & Magnus Liljedahl (USA), Shirley Robertson (GBR)
1999 Mateusz Kusznierewicz (POL), Margriet Matthijse (NED)
1998 Ben Ainslie (GBR), Carolijn Brouwer (NED)
1997 Pete Goss (GBR), Ruslana Taran & Elena Pakholchik (UKR)
1996 Jochen Schümann (GER), Lai Shan Lee (HKG)
1995 Russell Coutts (NZL), Isabelle Autissier (FRA)
1994 Peter Blake (NZL) & Robin Knox-Johnston (GBR), Theresa Zabell (ESP)

Source: Richard Aspland – World Sailing

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