Olympics Daily Debrief, Day 11 — Saving the Best for Last

It was the last leg, of the last medal race at the Rio Games when the most dramatic and defining moment in this year's Olympic sailing regatta unfolded.

Rio de Janeiro Olympics 2016

The Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition

Brazil's Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze on the final push before their medal race, and gold medal, win in the 49erFX. The Rio 2016 Games was the Olympic debut for the women's skiff.Sailing Energy/World Sailing

Nail biter. Edge of your seat. Photo finish. It was all of these and more for the 49erFX medal race in which Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze, of Brazil, battled to the last for the gold — and the only medal the host country would win in sailing at the Rio Olympic games.

It almost didn't happen for the Brazilians who were in a three-way tie going into the medal race with Jena Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen of Denmark and Tamara Echegoyen Dominguez and Berta Betanzos Moro of Spain. Alexandra Maloney and Molly Meech of New Zealand were just one point outside. These four teams were duking it out for the three podium positions.

The Brazilians started in the middle of the fleet near the boat end, sticking with the Kiwis while Spain and Denmark went after each other on the right side of the course. They were in third through the race until the final leeward leg. Through the final gate, they Brazilians split alone to the left side, allowing the leading New Zealanders to get far right, which had been favored throughout the day. At the top however, Grael and Kunz crossed easily head, rounding 10 seconds ahead of the New Zealanders. On the final run, the New Zealanders cut down the Brazilian's lead, and for a fleeting moment it appeard that Maloney and Meech might have taken the top spot from Grael and Kunze. In one final surge the Brazilians crossed the finish line right at the pin, less than two seconds before their rivals.

"When we rounded the first mark it was quite close, and by the bottom mark we had to make the decision between right and left," says Grael. "We chose the left gate because it was closer to us and easier. On the second beat, we went with the Danish girls and crossed with the pressure, which ended up being good and allowed us to win the race."

Brazil Olympic Sailing gold medal

The Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition

Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze are surrounded by family and fans after winning the medal race, and the gold, at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Grael's father, Torben Grael, has five Olympic sailing medals himself.Sailing Energy/World Sailing

Then, the party started. Scores of Brazilian journalists and supporters jumped into the Bay with Grael and Kunze. They righted their boat and, after a victory lap, came ashore where a group of fans lifted the team and their skiff above their heads, carrying them through the crowd like queens.

"We tried to sail this regatta like we had never sailed here before," says Grael. "We always were looking around, always watching, and paying attention. A lot of teams made a guidebook of how you should sail here, but you have to go like it's the first day on the water and go with your feelings."

American 49erFX sailors Paris Henken and Helena Scutt finished ninth in the medal race and 10th overall in the class. "We're really happy with our performance, and we were proud to be a part of the medal race for Team USA," says Scutt. "I think it was about time that women had a skiff in the Games, and I think the performances this week, with the competitive fleet we had, showed that we all belong here."

Rio de Janeiro Olympics 2016
Fans lift Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze, and their boat, from the water as they arrive on the beach in Rio after winning the gold medal.World Sailing

The 49erFX was one of four classes to complete their medal race today, but it was by far the most dramatic and memorable. In the 49er, New Zealand's Peter Burling and Blair Tuke reminded everyone why they clinched the gold medal on Tuesday, by taking a victory lap and winning the medal race. The rest of the medals were up for grabs between Australia, Germany, Denmark, France and Great Britain. At the start, it looked like Germany's Erik Heil and Thomas Plossel put themselves directly out of contention, with a boat-end start gone wrong with a near-capsize. They trailed the fleet with Great Britain, until the Brits capsized at the fourth mark, giving the Germans a chance to pass. As the British team, Dylan Fletcher-Scott and Alain Sign struggled to right their boat, the Germans raced down the final beat, finishing eighth and enough to secure them the bronze. With synchronized backflips into the Bay, they celebrated their medal race recovery and the first German medal in a men's sailing class since 1936. The Australians, London gold medalists Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen, won silver.

Rio de Janeiro Olympics 2016

The Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition

Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark celebrate at the top of the podium in Rio. They won the women's 470 gold medal with a race to spare, improving on their silver medal from London (2012)Sailing Energy/World Sailing

During the 470 women's race, it was impossible to tear anyone's attention away from the live stream as Annie Haeger and Briana Provancha, let a silver medal slip from their grasp one leg at a time. With an excellent mid-line start, the American's sailed the first beat with tactical precision, leading in to the first mark and defending it down the first run. At the first gate, the rounded the lefthand mark (looking upwind) and eventually lost their grip on the lead when the New Zealanders pinned them outside the top mark, dropping them back in the fleet. The New Zealanders beat them into the mark, essentially surrendering silver, and suddenly they were sailing for bronze against the Japanese. At the bottom of the run, however, they fouled Japan in a port-starboard crossing, forcing them to drop their spinnaker and take penalty turns. They rounded the final mark without a spinnaker and sailed the last reach leg to the finish under main and jib alone.

“We had a really tricky second beat and the wind was really patchy,” says American crew Provancha. “The fleet split, so we were forced to kind of go in one direction, and unfortunately, when it converged the fleet was all one tight-knit group and on the downwind we got a little bit out of pressure and got too greedy and fouled near the mark.''

Onboard cameras showed the heartbreaking moment when Haeger and Provancha crossed the line, Haeger in tears. Provancha is reflective. “I think there's a lot still to play for,” she says. “Obviously, we were disappointed that we didn't perform today. But, we really gave it our all and fought really hard. It's just not our time right now. It doesn't take away how proud I am of what we've done and how awesome this team has been.''

Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark, from Great Britain, clinched the gold before the 470 women's medal race, and enjoyed the confirmation and celebration on the beach. They were followed by New Zealand's Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie with silver, and France's Camille Lecointre and Hélène Defrance rounding out the podium in bronze.

Rio Olympic Sailing

The Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition

Croatia's Sime Fantela and Igor Marinec celebrate their gold medal win after leading the mens' 470 fleet through preliminary racing. Their medal is the first gold for Croatia in sailing.Sailing Energy/World Sailing

For the 470 Men, the top three were decided, but the question was the color of their hardware at the end of the day. Croatia's Sime Fantel and Igor Marinec prevailed, after leading through the entire week, winning their country's first gold medal in sailing, just two days after Tonci Stipanovic won the country's first-ever sailing medal in the Laser. Australia's Mat Belcher and Will Ryan finished the regatta with a silver medal, and Greece's Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis** won bronze. The American men, Stu McNay and Dave Hughes put in a solid final effort, finishing second in the medal race and fourth overall.

As the winter sun sets over Rio, when the medal ceremonies and press conferences wrap up and cheering fans have finally relinquished their spots on Flamengo Beach, the Rio 2016 Olympic sailing regatta will officially come to a close.

For some of the athletes, their sights are already set on Tokyo, the next site of Olympic sailing, in 2020. For others, Brazil was their last hurrah, and they’re ready to move on to their next sailing project or perhaps retire from the sport. Many more still are undecided on the next Games. The Olympic regatta on Guanabara Bay was one of the trickiest venues that many can recall, testing patience, strength and skill all at once. Though every sailor who competed in Rio is at the pinnacle of the sport, there's no doubt that the best sailors in each of the ten classes are those taking home a new piece of metal — be it gold, silver or bronze.

Full results from all races are available on sailing.org.