To Brazilians, Torben Grael needs little introduction. With five Olympic medals, he is their most successful Olympian, but his talents are not confined to the Olympics. Like Paul Cayard, he’s one of the few sailors who’ve been successful across the three disciplines of Olympic, offshore and match race sailing.
He made his first Olympic appearance at the age of 24 at the 1984 Los Angeles games, where he won silver. Four years later, he claimed bronze in Seoul. After forging a successful partnership with Marcelo Ferreira in the Star Class, he then won gold at Atlanta, bronze at Sydney and an additional gold at Athens in 2004.
He made his first appearance as a skipper in the Volvo Ocean race onboard Brasil 1 in the 2005-06 edition where the team finished third. Victory came in the next edition, in 2008-09, this time as the skipper of Ericsson 4.
They laid down their intentions early on; breaking the 24-hour record in the first leg from Alicante to Cape Town, sailing 596.6 nautical miles, an improvement of 50nm on Mike Sanderson’s record in the previous Volvo Ocean Race.
Ericsson 4 eventually won seven out of 10 legs, covering the racecourse in a total time of 127 days, 7 hours, 46 minutes, 21 seconds. “The boat isn’t important, it’s all about the knowledge of the sailor,” Grael has said. In his case, he has a lifetime’s worth.
Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the middle child of three boys, Torben showed his sailing talent early on, to the surprise of no one, given his sailing heritage. His mother’s family, the Schmidts, were passionate sailors from Denmark, his grandfather Preben, was a sailing pioneer in Brazil while his uncles Axel and Erik, were the first Brazilian international champions.
To date he has accrued over 30 National wins over various classes, six World championship titles, five Olympic medals, and has competed in the America’s Cup on three occasions, either as tactician or a member of the afterguard. In 2000, he was part of the Italian Prada team that challenged Team New Zealand for the trophy, and in 2007 he was part of the Luna Rossa crew that lost the final of the Louis Vuitton Cup.
Chosen to carry the flag for the Brazilian team at Athens 2004, Grael was named ISAF World Sailor of the Year in 2009 and in 2015, he was inducted into the World Sailing Hall of Fame – the highest honour in the sport.