Hungary’s Maria Erdi is part of a close-knit family so it only seemed right that when she qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games they all sent their congratulations together.
Erdi booked her spot for Rio 2016 in the Laser Radial at the final opportunity, the European qualification event in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Following nervously back in Balatonfured, Hungary was father Gabor, mother Gabriella and siblings Julia, Anna, Gabriella and Janos.
“My whole family called me,” explained Maria, “They were on the phone, on the speaker so I was talking to everyone, my siblings and my parents.
“I could not believe, Rio was a dream and I was just super happy. Me, my family and everyone was surprised I qualified I think.
“I was just smiling and I couldn’t think about anything or concentrate on anything before the last race. I had lost my head and I was just very happy, I couldn’t believe that I made it.”
Success runs through the Erdi family. The eldest child Julia studies medicine, Anna is a talented pianist, Gabriella is a national champion in dressage and the youngest, Janos, at nine, is no doubt a star in waiting.
Achievements are evident around the Erdi family household. Head to the piano in the kitchen/diner and you’ll see a line of trophies. Venture to Maria and her sisters study room and a Youth Olympic Games flag occupies some wall space next to homemade Olympic rings with motivational notes dotted around the room. Move down to father Gabor’s office and further imagery and trophies can be found.
“I’m happy to see all of my kids finding their own direction,” explained Gabor, “And of course I am very happy for Maria. When you look at the level of competitiveness in my kids, Maria is the highest but they have all found their hobbies and they are happy doing that.”
Mother Gabriella added, “I am happy that she can have this life. She enjoys it very much. Of course, I miss her. After two weeks I miss her very much but I’m always happy when she is back.”
Following in the competitive footsteps of Maria is her sister, Gabriella, who, at 16-years-old, has made steady progress in the competitive arena but on a different mode of transport.
“We are very lucky because my sister has a horse,” said Maria, “She’s going riding every day and is really good at it. I go often with her to see the horse and I go and ride with her.” Gabriella added, “I like riding very much and I ride every day. My best result was national champion and it’s always good when Maria comes with me to ride.”
Even though the sports in which they compete are different, there is a positive knock on effect that drives each other forward. Erdi added, “I look up to her because she goes to that horse every day, no matter what the weather is like. I also think she looks up to me.”
Role models are evident across the Erdi family and Gabriella has Olympic aspirations of her own. As Maria gears up to Rio 2016, stories of the Olympic Games will be told across the dinner table but as a successful youth sailor, Maria won’t be racing in Rio to make up the numbers.
“There is a bit of pressure but before I qualified, I was only dreaming about making it to the Olympics so I will just try to do my best. I would be satisfied with a top 20. I don’t want to be last.”
At 18-years-old, Maria will be one of the youngest competitors at the Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition. She is the personification of the pathway working in full effect. Starting out in Optimists, moving into the Laser 4.7, Erdi sailed the Byte CII at 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing.
At the end of 2015 she sailed at the Youth Sailing World Championships in Langkawi, Malaysia and claimed the Laser Radial gold medal in style.
Since then, Erdi has turned heads at the senior events with impressive performances. She finished eighth in a hugely experienced Trofeo Princesca Regatta fleet to qualify for Rio 2016 and followed it up with a 13th at Sailing World Cup Hyères.
The coveted gold medal may be beyond Erdi, given her young age, but with four more years of family support, close-knit guidance and a competitive spirit, expect the young Hungarian to be a major contender at Tokyo 2020. My Road to Rio
Every sailor has a unique story to be told from how they got into the sport to their journey to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. In the build-up to the summer showcase, World Sailing will be exploring the various roads to Rio that some of the sailors have taken to get to the pinnacle of sport, the Olympic Games.