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Brazil's Grael family aims to rule Olympic waves

28 July 2016, 16:43

Rio de Janeiro - Olympic teammates are bound to get close to each other. But imagine competing alongside your brother -- and being coached by dad.

That's how it is at the Rio Olympics for Brazilian sailor Martine Grael. The 49erFX class star's brother Marco sails a 49er, while their father Torben is chief coach.

If a family outing that involves competing against the world's best athletes in front of a global television audience sounds stressful, this sailing royal family sees things differently.

"I think it's really cool to compete alongside my brother," Martine, 25, told AFP at a scenic Rio fort and military base hosting part of the Brazilian Olympic squad. "We're sailing at different times, so we'll be able to exchange information and help each other out."

Torben Grael, 56, is a Brazilian legend, with five Olympic sailing medals. But this is his first go as coach, while his children will be making their Olympic debuts.

"It's my first time and my children are taking part, so it's like competing for the first time," he said, without admitting to actual nerves. "You need to be very focused."

"This is different, but ever since they decided to go sailing and racing they've had this pressure and they've got used to it."

- Fourth-generation Rio sailors -

If Martine or Marco, 27, get medals in next month's Games they'll be joining not only their father but also uncle Lars in the Olympic history books.

Lars Grael, a two-time bronze medal winner and a world champion, was nearly killed in 1998 when a drunk in a powerboat smashed into his Tornado catamaran, leading to the amputation of his right leg.

Incredibly, Lars returned to top-level sailing in Star keelboats, where despite his disability he could be strapped in as crewman.

Torben, whose medal haul includes two golds, a silver and two bronzes, shares the Olympic record for sailors with Britain's Ben Ainslie and Brazilian Robert Scheidt.

Also read: Brazil's Rousseff, Lula to boycott Olympic opening ceremony

Torben's grandfather, a Danish immigrant, brought the sailing bug over, along with a 6 meter class sailboat. The little boat had previously been used by Denmark's silver medal-winning Olympic team in 1912 and the family became "passionate about sailing in Guanabara Bay," Torben says.

Two of Torben's uncles represented Brazil in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics, passing on the passion to the next generation.

In the same way, Marco and Martine went to sea as toddlers and began competing seriously at about the age of 11 in Optimists.

"Like any family, our parents wanted their children to follow in their footsteps, but they were always clear that I could do what I wanted," Marco said.

"I always loved sailing from an early age. I lived by the water and I always had that contact with the sea."

Torben says their sport is so complex that his children have benefitted simply from growing up among sailors.

"There's technical knowledge that you pass on," he said.

- Strictness -But what's it like when your father is also your boss?

The Graels are careful to avoid any suggestion of special treatment between family members.

"You don't want him to show any favorable decisions making it look like he's helping you," Marco said.

"It's not everyone who has their father in charge of the team but I think it's really good. I trust him a lot," Martine said. "He has a lot of good advice."

There is perhaps one advantage in knowing their father that well. "He's someone of few words, so you have to interpret things," she said.

Torben, who has the weathered face and strong hands of a veteran sailor, said if anything he is tougher on his kids than the others.

"I have to show that I'm being correct," he said. "Maybe they even suffer a bit from this."

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