Back in the Saddle
Published on January 25th, 2017
by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze gave the Rio 2016 Olympic Games that magic moment, winning the Gold Medal on their home waters in the new women’s skiff event, the 49erFX.
The final race was a fist fight, a winner take-all contest against New Zealand’s Alex Maloney and Molly Meech, with the Brazilian girls making the pass at the final windward mark and holding the lead in a high speed dual to the finish.
Crossing in first, pandemonium broke out. Friends swam out to meet them, with flags and fans surrounding the winners. The joy seen by Grael and Kunze is a memory I won’t soon forget, and apparently, an occasion the girls seek to repeat.
With the road to the Tokyo 2020 Games beginning at the Sailing World Cup Miami 2017, I caught up with Martine and Kahena in Miami for an update.
What were the big lessons that contributed to your success in Rio?
Martine Grael: It was the accumulation of our experiences over many, many years of sailing and training. All that we learned from other people in and out of our sport, and all the different partners and boats that we experienced. I think it all added up together– not just for the last race of the Games, but for the lead up to the Games.
I can feel those last years, all the experience, like “Ah, now I know what to do.” So most of the situations that we’ve been through in the Olympics, we had already been through. So it was obviously, no surprises for us.
How long did the excitement of winning the gold medal last?
Kahena Kunze: Oh, at least until now. After the Games, we went for a short holiday, as we had so many interviews and requests that we just needed to get away and relax a little bit. When we got back it was not so intense, but when we think about the medal race, it all comes back to us. The pressure but also the great memories. We’ve never seen such a big crowd cheering for us, and winning for our country was is such a big thing. So we are still feeling the good vibes.
Do people notice you walking down the street?
Kahena Kunze: A few days after winning, people were stopping us all the time, asking us to take selfies with them. Now it’s not so much.
Was it helpful for the Games to be in Rio?
Martine Grael: Well, you can see that there’s a lot of distraction. Rio is a big city as well, so there’s always things going on, things to do. Friends all over, parties, barbecues. So for sure it was a big distraction, but at the same time, we spent so much more time at home during this whole four-year cycle. And I think finishing that last race with such a big celebration, with all my friends at the beach, it made the whole moment really special.
Was there any question that you would continue on after Rio?
Kahena Kunze: No, but we just needed time to think about it, because it would be hard to keep the same structure. We need to have another path to win again. If we do the same thing, I don’t think we are going to have a medal.
Martine Grael: We are taking it easy now, because it’s still a long time to go, and it feels like we spent more than three months without touching the boat. But we were both missing it so much and it has come back together quite quickly. However, we also realize that we have to take it very easy to not burn out.
Staying on top of the mountain is different than climbing the mountain.
Kahena Kunze: We won the gold medal in our country… that’s hard to beat. So we need to sit down, calm down, and see what our new goals will be.
Martine Grael: I think the challenge is how the class now is improving so much, because now there is a lot of knowledge of the boat that there wasn’t before. Also, there’s a lot of new girls, and good girls like Olympic medalists, coming into the class. It will always be a challenge sailing this boat itself, because it’s not a very easy boat to just go around and have a cruise around the bay.
How do you feel about the 49erFX?
Kahena Kunze: It’s amazing…I love the FX. It’s the perfect boat for the skiff woman. So fast and requires good chemistry with your partner. Also, it is a great group of people. We have so many friends in the fleet.
Broadcast: Medal Races on Saturday and Sunday, January 28 and 29, will be streamed live on World Sailing’s YouTube Channel below:
Medal Races (January 28): RS:X, 49er, 49erFX, Nacra 17:
Medal Races (January 29): 470, Finn, Laser, Laser Radial:
Background: The Sailing World Cup is a World-class, annual series of Olympic sailing for elite and professional sailors. Over 2,000 of the World’s leading sailors, representing over 75 nations have competed in the Sailing World Cup which offers a definitive guide to the best-of-the-best in the Olympic sailing world. More information and criteria can be found at online under the 2017 Sailing World Cup Series… click here.
2017 Sailing World Cup series
Miami, USA (January 22-29)
Hyeres, France (April 25-May 1)
Santander, Spain – Final (June 4-11)
Source: World Sailing