(Adds Brazil celebrations, race details, Brazil performance, Grael family medals)
By Jeb Blount
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 18 (Reuters) - Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze won Brazil’s first 2016 sailing gold in the women’s 49erFX class on Thursday, coming from behind to score a dramatic medal-race victory over New Zealand’s Alex Maloney and Molly Meech.
In what was the last and perhaps most hotly disputed medal race of the 10-day Rio Olympic Regatta, Jena Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen of Denmark won bronze, pushing Spain’s Tamara Echegoyen Dominguez and Berta Betanzos Moro, who stood first overall before the race, off the podium.
Grael’s win, which sparked wild celebrations, brings to eight the number of sailing medals won for Brazil by her remarkable family. Father Torben, who is also the sailing team’s head coach, has five - two gold, one silver and two bronze - and her uncle Lars has two, both bronze.
Going into the medal race, Spain, Brazil, New Zealand and Denmark had been separated by only one point at the top. None of the other boats in the ten-boat medal-race fleet could have reached the podium.
A great start saw Grael and Kunze take an early lead, but the Brazilians misjudged the race’s only major wind shift on the first upwind leg to round the first pin in third. By the next downwind leg, they trailed New Zealand by 26 points.
But Brazil battled back as the wind direction held, passing the Kiwis on the last upwind leg to edge home by two seconds.
As Grael and Kunze crossed the finish line on a fast reach, their green and gold, flag-stamped gennaker flying, fans watching the race from nearby Flamengo Beach went wild.
After taking a victory plunge into the waters of Guanabara Bay, Grael and Kunze sailed towards the shore and celebrated with fans who swam out to greet them. The Brazilian boat was later lifted up and carried on the beach with the happy Brazilian duo aboard.
Torben Grael led the celebrations although there was no Grael family double as Martine’s brother Marco only finished 11th in the men’s 49er.
Two other Brazilians came closer to medals: Robert Scheidt, the country’s greatest Olympian with five medals, finished fourth in the men’s Laser class, as did Jorge Zarif in the Finn class.
Reporting by Jeb Blount; Editing by Alison Williams and Neil Robinson