In SailGP, the best athletes in the world compete in identical, supercharged F50s at the most iconic racing venues in the world. But what were our athletes doing before they joined the league and how did they reach the highest level of the sport? Next up, Denmark grinder Martin Kirketerp explains how his moments of defeat led to Olympic gold.
“The moments that made me were the moments of defeat - of getting my ass kicked for three years in a row when I was young and refusing to give up despite the bad results. You remember a lot of your first major successes and losses and it’s character building for the rest of your career.
I first started sailing around the age of nine. I wasn’t into it that much but I loved the competition aspect and I wanted to win. My main ambition was qualifying for the World Championships and for that you’ve got to be in the top five in Denmark. To be honest, I was never close to qualifying for the World Championships and that took a big toll on my mental health.
I had a few rough years because I was so frustrated at not achieving any of my goals. But then, when I was 15, we had a Danish Championship. It was insanely windy and I ended up getting a silver medal - that was the moment all the hard work really paid off. It took a long time but those years really shaped me as a pure hard worker. I learned to keep working and do whatever it takes.
Winning Olympic gold in 2008 with my partner Jonas Warrer also made me who I am today. We’d had an amazing Olympics, we’d sailed really well and heading into the medal race we were leading with 15 points to second place. We knew we could go out and have a bad race and still win, but we couldn’t have a shocker. When we got out there, there were big waves and a heavy breeze and we snapped the rig just before the start. That was the shocker we didn’t want to have. We had never broken a rig in the four years we’d sailed together and then we broke it on the most important day of our sailing career 40 minutes before the start.
In that moment, we were out - we were just spectators drifting around about to watch a race we should be participating in. We could hardly look at each other. We got a tow in and we were thinking about how much hard work we’d put in and how it just couldn’t be over and then we saw a boat with a rig up. The last race before the medal race was on Friday and all the other boats had been de-rigged over the weekend apart from one. So we just said - why don’t we take that? The boat belonged to the Croatian athletes. Someone called them to tell them the Danish guys were stealing their boat. They came running up to us and started helping us rig the boat as fast as they could.
The rule at the Olympics is that once the gun goes, you’ve got four minutes to start the race. We crossed the line at 3.57 minutes, so if the Croatians didn’t come and help us, we wouldn’t have made the start and would have finished fourth overall.
We didn’t even know if we’d made the start. We passed the line as the horn went and we just went for it. We managed to catch a few boats and when the scoreboard came up at the end it said we’d finished in seventh - that was enough to secure the gold. We went from a feeling of being out and lost and dark to realizing we’d actually won it. It was unbelievable. That was the moment that made me - I’ll never forget it.”