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Sailing World Cup

A MARRIAGE FORGED IN THE FIRE OF 470 COMPETITION

16 Aug 2023

It’s said that campaigning together in an Olympic sailing partnership is like being in a very intense marriage.

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For Malte and Anastasiya Winkel, they have put all their eggs in one basket. They were already married, campaigning separately in men’s and women’s 470s for Tokyo 2020. But when the 470 class was merged into one mixed gender category, there was a difficult choice to be made.

Anastasiya recalls the first time she suggested the idea to her husband. The idea of husband and wife campaigning together in the same boat. Couples do this all time in recreational weekend sailing, but committing to this as full-time professionals is a completely different challenge, not to be undertaken without great thought and care.

“It was my idea, I asked him, and he said definitely not,” she recalls with a smile. Malte explains why: “I didn’t want to combine the marriage with a sailing campaign because I knew from my career already with a good friend could be really difficult and really emotional sometimes. For me the marriage was No.1 priority, and for me it wasn’t even about whether or not the campaign was successful, I just didn’t want to risk it. But somehow Nastiya was able to convince me.”

Anastasiya says she left the subject alone for a while. “We were still both doing our Olympic campaigns for Tokyo and it wasn’t yet decided if we were going to the Games or not.” Anastasiya ended up qualifying for the 2020 Games with teammate Luise Wanser, but Malte didn’t get selected for the men’s berth.

Wanser and Winkel sailed a great Olympic regatta to finish sixth in Tokyo. They probably would have won a medal but for a disqualification from the two races of the first day because their trapeze harness was measured as being 200 grams too heavy when they were check-weighed as they came ashore. It was an infringement of the rules that cost them a place on the podium. “I felt I wasn’t happy with sixth place and I knew what it took to get a medal so I thought I’d like to go for another three years,” says Anastasiya. “Malte and I talked about sailing in different teams but because only one team can go to Paris we thought that option would be more dangerous for our relationship than if we sailed together.”

Then the opportunity came up for Malte to do a day’s 470 racing with his wife. “We sailed really well together,” says Malte, sounding a little surprised that it went so well. “We had a similar way of wanting to race and that was a game changer for the decision to campaign together. We are both Type A people who when we start to do something, we’re 100% committed, which is why I think it was a longer process for us to decide to sail together because we knew that if we agreed, it would have to be 100% commitment.”

The partnership doesn’t come without its problematic moments. “The way we communicate is different, and sometimes the way Malte speaks sounds harsh to me,” admits Anastasiya. “But I remind myself that it is not personal.” Malte continues: “We have had talks with our sports psychologist and that helps us understand that things are different for men and women. We thought about putting our relationship in a box and pretending that we are just a sailing crew when we’re in the boat, but that wasn’t working. We accept that we are still a married couple whatever we are doing, and we have found ways of working through the hard moments. On the way in from the racing we will check with each other that there is anything we need to say to each other and to stop it being a problem for too long.”

Anastasiya sees the bond of marriage as an added strength to their campaign. “We are super open with each other, we don’t hide things, which helps us deal with conflicts between us almost immediately.”

Having first met each other at the 2014 Junior European Championships when Anastasiya was representing her native Ukraine, it was 470 racing that first brought this couple together. Now they are married and Anastasiya has her German citizenship, they are committed to trying to qualify for the Paris 2024 Games as husband and wife. Just winning German selection will be no mean feat against two other world-class teams in the tight-knit national squad, although recent performances have gone well for the Winkels.

Winning medals with her husband is beyond compare, says Anastasiya. “I think it’s a super special feeling. To win the medal at the Test Event, that brought out some emotions. You just share these experiences on a different level than you would share with any other person, and I think that’s the best part of what we are doing together. Competing as husband and wife.”

By Andy Rice, World Sailing Event Correspondent