Norway in the Olympics: Agerup sisters selected to sail in Rio

Photo: Ørn Borgen / Aftenposten Twin sisters Maia and Ragna have been sailing since they were eight years old. They say that being so close is both an advantage and a disadvantage.

Photo: Ørn Borgen / Aftenposten
Twin sisters Maia and Ragna have been sailing since they were eight years old. They say that being so close is both an advantage and a disadvantage.

Molly Jones
The Norwegian American

On May 30, Olympiatoppen announced its first selection of Norwegian athletes officially chosen to represent the country at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this summer. Two of the athletes on that list were Maia and Ragna Agerup, 20-year-old twin sailors who didn’t expect to make it to the Olympics this year.

“The first thing we thought was ‘Dang, now we have come a long way!’ I don’t think anybody who knows us had counted on this. The Olympics have been a long-term goal,” said Ragna to NRK.

Last November, the Agerup sisters qualified a boat for Norway in the 49er FX class at the World Championships in Argentina, but they still had to qualify themselves in order to make it to Rio. The selection by Olympiatoppen was based on their solid performances in the World and European Championships so far this year.

“It’s a tremendous feeling to be selected,” adds Maia. “There have been very many tough years, especially this last year, and we have worked very hard. We hadn’t really expected this yet.”

Ragna and Maia first decided to give sailing a try at the age of eight after their older sister had become interested in the sport. When they moved to Australia for their mother’s career at the age of 13, they almost decided to quit sailing, but they quickly learned how great the conditions were and decided to continue. In Perth they were able to train twice as much as they were used to in Norway and really started to excel. By the time they returned home to Norway two years later, they had decided to pursue their sailing careers seriously and applied to the Norwegian Institute of Sports.

“It was natural to apply to middle school at Norges Toppidrettsgymnas (NTGU) in Bærum. We said: Now we are athletes,” said Maia to Aftenposten. “We knew we would sail together in the future. I hated sailing against Ragna.”

Since 2011, the two have been competing in double-handed sailing as a team. But even though they wanted to compete together, it was hard for them to determine their roles when they first started with the 29er boat class. Neither of them wanted to be the sailor responsible for controlling the sails and the speed of the boat. While Ragna—who is considered to be the more aggressive of the two—ended up taking this position while Maia steered as the skipper, they eventually decided it wasn’t the right fit and switched.

“It felt like starting over. We didn’t know if it was worth it. Our coach was also against this shift because he thought we were good enough. But we wanted to go further,” says Ragna, who is now the skipper.

The two agree that being twins and knowing each other so well serves as both an advantage and disadvantage. While they certainly know how to get on each other’s nerves, they also share common goals and good communication.

In 2014, Maia and Ragna graduated from high school and were able to commit to sailing full time. They started training on the 49er FX, a fast and technical boat that will be used in the women’s class of the Olympics for the first time this year. The 49er FX uses the 49er boat—sailed in the men’s class—with a smaller rig better for lighter sailors.

Their big goal for 2014 was to perform well enough at the ISAF World Championship in Santander, Spain, that they would qualify for the Test Event in Rio in 2015. On the second day of the championships, however, Maia dislocated her shoulder.

The next several months were difficult as Maia recovered from the injury, but they felt they had returned to their top level of competition by the summer. They finished ninth out of 39 in the open 49er FX European Championships in Portugal in July and third out of 27 at the 49er FX U24 Junior World Championships in Germany in August. They then went on to qualify the boat for Norway in Argentina in November.

After their solid finish in the European Championships in Barcelona in March, Olympiatoppen hinted that a ticket to the Olympics might be in reach—and sure enough it was. In May, the Agerup sisters arrived in Rio for the first time to train where they will be competing this summer.

The Secretary General of Norges Seilforbund (the Norwegian Sailing Federation), Espen Guttormsen, believes they can excel in the Games: “They are strong-willed girls who have the potential to become the world’s best,” he said to NRK. “They have a great advantage because they are twins, have sailed together a lot, and are able to handle difficult situations.”

Nevertheless, Ragna and Maia Agerup have a lot of sailing ahead of them as they prepare for the Olympics just a month around the corner.

“We must take the Olympics one at a time. The goal is top ten, but anything can happen in Rio,” says Ragna to NRK.

This article originally appeared in the July 1, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.