Sailors Samuel Albrecht, 39, and Gabriela Nicolino, 31, do not forget an experience lived in the final 100 meters of the Princess Sofia Trophy, a traditional regatta that takes place annually in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, on April 7, 2019.
When he saw the boat turn, in an attempt to make a quick return, the Gaucho had the index finger of his right hand guillotined by the rudder, suffering an open fracture in the phalanx. He had to undergo emergency surgery.
“As soon as I got on the boat my finger was hanging and with the bone sticking out”, he tells leaf.
“At the time, we were upset, sad for so much wasted effort, and we began to see the risks we took. I’m not a boy anymore, I have a family, children, and when we’re sailing it’s hard to control the feeling that we’re doing something dangerous. Fear comes, too, but we remember that this is what keeps us alive”, he adds.
Gabriela lived a similar personal test. Years ago, he was faced with a crossroads about dedicating himself fully to a career in sport, still without such exciting results, or leaving it aside. At the same time, she had studied advertising and completed a master’s degree.
“I had to make my choice. Quitting or following a traditional job? There was fear, of course, but at that moment I noticed that I already had a career, I was participating in Olympic selectives. I was encouraged to continue”, she says.
“I had a lot of support from the Armed Forces [da qual foi atleta] and incentives. We always swayed about continuing.”
Forged by achievements and together since 2018, at the encouragement of the CBVela (Brazilian Sailing Confederation), after years of competing as rivals, Samuel and Gabriela are the hope of the country’s medal at Nacra 17, the youngest event in the Olympic classes and also considered one of the more radical.
Unlike other traditional competitions in this sport, which easily exceed an hour, the Nacra regattas are packed with shorter events and boats that literally fly over water, reaching speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour. It is the only sport in Olympic sailing that allows mixed doubles.
The boat is of the catamaran type, has three sails and weighs about 142 kg. The mast and double hull are made of carbon fiber, which boosts speed even more. The 17 refers to the number of feet, the length of the vessel.
“It’s all manual, nothing is automated at Nacra. There was a development on the sails, the carbon fiber ‘foil’, but everything remains mechanical. We operate, we regulate, it is an extremely physical competition”, explains Gabriela.
The joining of styles seems to have been perfect. If Samuel had in his curriculum the dispute of two Olympiads, in Beijing-2008 and in Rio-2016 –alongside Isabel Swan, already in the Nacra class– he found in Gabriela the necessary personal motivation for more. Last year, for the first time in his career, he publicly commented that he felt in real conditions to compete for an Olympic medal.
Since then, the duo has achieved quick results. One of them, fifth place in Aarhus, Denmark, in the world category, which accredited her to Tokyo, in addition to the silver medal at the Miami World Cup. Samuel’s injury in 2019 was the hardest point.
“It took two and a half months of recovery. We had the Pan, and it wasn’t 100%”, recalls Samuel. In Lima, in 2019, they won the bronze medal.
In 2020, amidst the pandemic scenario, the pair used the time available to work behind the scenes. It looked for sponsors, for ways to make training materials viable, and dealt with unfeasible bureaucracies amidst the intense routine of travel and training. Interestingly, it signed contracts with three companies.
“The entire campaign is very complex, it requires organizing a calendar, planning everything, understanding what we need in terms of material. We have boats in Japan and Europe, for example. Apart from the financial part, in which we pay our coach, we go after companies for projects, sponsorship, we provide documents, we talk to confederations, clubs…”, explains Samuel.
During the pandemic, the two stayed for nearly three months doing individual work at a distance: Samuel, in the South, and Gabriela, in Rio de Janeiro. On their return, they started to meet monthly for about 15 days in Rio de Janeiro to work on the water.
This allowed the pair to dream even more of good results in the first and only official competition disputed so far, in January, when they conquered the Miami stage of the US Open Series of US Sailing, winning six of eight races disputed.
“The result showed that we have chances. In the light wind we were very good, now we have rivals in pairs. I think today there are ten boats with good chances for medals. It is a class of the highest level, with champions who migrated to it”, says Samuel.
“The best parameter there is, of course, are the boats on the side. We improved paths, felt the boat and had this return. It’s not just the fastest that wins, it’s the ones who take advantage of the best gusts of wind. And we worked on it”, he adds.
In early May, the pair headed to Santander, Spain, for a training period. He came to Brazil, but has already returned to Europe, for the final preparation before his definitive departure for Japan, on the 7th.
Inspired by 18 sailing medals in the Olympic history – 7 gold, 3 silver and 8 bronze – they want to live in Tokyo, finally, the consecration, after fears and difficulties left behind.