Mechanical engineer sails for medal in the Olympics

Combining elite sailing with studies at Chalmers, is that possible? For Hanna Klinga it is. She has studied Mechanical Engineering, plans to start a master's programme and is also aiming to stand on the podium at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“The feeling of wanting to really invest my time in sailing came to me during high school. I sailed with my twin brother and his friends when I was younger and then I applied to a high school that focused on sailing. That was when I started to think more about the future and about really developing my interest in sailing,” says Hanna Klinga.

She started sailing her brother's boat when she was 13 years old and quickly grew interested in the sport. Along the way, she has won a World Championship silver medal, several medals at World Cups and represented Sweden in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Hanna Klinga is also part of The Swedish Olympic Committee’s support programme for athletes.

49erFX – the Formula 1 of sailing

The sailing form 49erFX that Hanna Klinga competes in is a relatively new class, for women it has only existed in the Olympics since 2016. For men, however, the class has existed since 2000. 49erFX is a two-handed sailing dinghy equipped with a trapeze, where the crew uses their body weight to balance the dinghy. The class is also called the Formula 1 of sailing.

“These kinds of boats are very fast, and this particular boat is unstable and technically difficult. If one of us make just a little mistake, the boat will capsize immediately. In the early competitions, when the class was just introduced, it was often simply the boat that did not overturn that won. The level at the competitions has increased since then. In the past, it was mainly technique and speed that was required, but now it takes just as much tactics and strategy to be really good.”

Studying and sailing benefit each other

Hanna started studying at Chalmers in 2010 and was drawn by the challenge of an education in engineering and her interest in mathematics. She first studied two years of full-time studies in Mechanical Engineering, then took a four-year break where she invested all her time in sailing, before returning to Chalmers to study her third year. She is studying at Chalmers with support from the Swedish National Sports University, meaning that she can adapt her studies to the sport.

“For me, it has worked well to focus entirely on either the sailing or the studies, as sailors are often away during events and the sport takes just as much time as a full-time job. I have received a great deal of help from both the Swedish National Sports University and from teachers at Chalmers when it comes to taking study breaks and coming back to the studies after time away.”

Combining an elite sport with university studies is not always easy, Hanna says. However, she also stresses all the help you can get from the Swedish National Sports University, including benefits such as a gym card and support such as the possibility to take an exam elsewhere if you are away at a competition.

“The combination of studying and sailing also makes me much more efficient and focused. After having a period of full-time studies, I become more efficient in my sailing and when I come back to the studies again, I feel much better at structuring my time.”

Sails are set for the Olympics in Tokyo 

Hanna Klinga’s thoughts about the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo began shortly after the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She is competing for the spot in the games together with her colleague Julia Gross, whom she has been training with for a long time. In August 2019, however, the elite sailors encountered complications when Julia broke a bone in her foot during an intense competition.

“It was very stormy conditions that ended with a crash. We will not be able to sail together now for a while of course, but the work will continue. During the rehabilitation period we can focus on other things, such as doing a lot on physical and mental training and planning the work ahead. We are hopeful and still aim to qualify for the Olympics.”

The next time that Sweden as a nation can qualify for the Summer Olympics is during the World Championship in December 2019. After that, Hanna Klinga and Julia Gross need to qualify as a team. According to Hanna, Sweden has several strong teams competing to represent the country.

“It is very exciting. Since we have had some setbacks, the goal for me and Julia right now is just going to Tokyo. But the goal at the Olympics is definitely a place at the podium!”

After the 2020 Summer Olympics, Hanna Klinga plans to start studying the master’s program Lärande och ledarskap (Learning and Leadership). Going forward, she would like to continue working with sailing and to combine it with her studies at Chalmers.

“I am excited about the master’s programme because it contains subjects that I have already encountered when sailing and that I want to develop, such as team cohesion and leadership. I also think it can be personally beneficial to study pedagogy, and it would be very useful if I wanted to start coaching other sailors.”

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Text: Sophia Kristensson
Photo: Johan Bodell

Published: Wed 02 Oct 2019.