Five-star Grael’s golden swansong

For Brazilian sailing legend Torben Grael Athens 2004 represented an Olympic swansong. He had made his debut at the Games 20 years earlier in Los Angeles. Athens was his sixth consecutive Games, and he had already amassed four medals. He had already booked his place in sailing’s pantheon of greats and was certainly one of the finest Star class sailors there has ever been.

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Grael was taught to sail by his Danish grandfather as a young boy and he was clearly a natural. When he was 18, he won a junior world title, and added his first senior world title five years later in 1983. At his first Olympic Games the following year he won a silver medal in the Soling class. Soon afterwards he switched to the Star class, and never looked back.

Grael won a bronze in 1988 and then, after coming home empty handed from Barcelona 1992, he won a gold in Atlanta in 1996 to complete his set of the three different colours of medal. His fifth Games, in 2000, by which point he was 40, yielded another bronze medal. Now, in Athens, he was determined to prove that, at the grand old age of 44, he was as good as ever.

He faced a strong field comprising no less than seven world champions. Fifth in the first race, fourth in the second and victorious in the third, Grael and his long time racing partner Marcelo Ferreira had moved to the top of the standings after that third race with an advantage of four points over the Swiss boat, and they were at least eight points ahead of everyone else.

They cemented their lead with another victory in the fourth race, and a second place in race five. By now the Brazilian pair were starting to look unbeatable. Another couple of top-five finishes left them 19 points clear with just three races left. In the end, Grael and Ferreira won the gold medal a race to spare.

His fifth Olympic medal made Grael the most successful sailor that the Games had seen in terms of total medals. He retired shortly after Athens, as did Ferreira, whose own tally of two golds and a bronze meant that he too was one of Brazil's most successful Olympians.