When sports stars retire there is often a period of second thought and sometimes a second coming. Multi World Champion Michael Schumacher for example made a Formula 1 comeback. Arguably the greatest basketball player ever Michael Jordan even made two comebacks from retirement. Like Schumacher and Jordan, whatever the motives for a return, sometimes they are welcome just for the person and the personality. A perfect sailing example for this is Argentina’s double Olympic bronze medallist, Santiago ‘Santi’ Lange. A much loved person around any sailing boat park.
In Seoul 1988 a fresh faced 26-year-old Santi competed in his first Olympic Games in the Soling class, returning home with a ninth place finish. With no multihull in the London 2012 competition, Lange hung up his Olympic salopettes following his Beijing 2008 Tornado bronze, or so he thought… Having already notched up five Olympic appearances, the draw of a first South American Olympic Games has been big enough that it has brought a legend out of what can now be classed as an ‘Olympic sabbatical’.
Santi may be a little older than when he made his Olympic debut but there will still be some fresh faced Lange’s sailing the waters of Rio de Janeiro this coming summer. Santi’s sons, 28-year-old Yago and 19-year-old Klaus.
For Santi, a South American family affair was a major factor in his Olympic ‘comeback’, “I didn’t plan to be here at this time of my career but now the opportunity is here and I am working hard and dreaming about Rio. Being here with my sons is something I never thought of. To be here with my sons is a privilege.”
Yago and Klaus will be on the start line of the Rio 2016 49er fleet thanks to a seventh place finish at the 2015 49er World Championships and it will be their first taste of an Olympic Games, a taste sweetened by having their father alongside them and being the first Olympics on their home continent. The romance of the occasion has not been lost on Santi and having his sons with him has made his return to Olympic sailing an easy endeavour. Talking at the Maracana Stadium when he was taking time out from competing at the 2015 Aquece Rio Test Event, Santi said, “This campaign has been very special for me. Today I am here, tonight I will go and watch TV with my sons and tomorrow we will be in the water together. For me that is very special.”
The campaign may be special, but it is still an Olympic campaign. Campaigning takes a lot of hard work and effort and at 54 Santi is way past retirement age in nearly every other sport. However, age is just a number in sailing and Santi epitomizes sailing being a sport for life, even if he only has one reason to keep going. His sons. “I can only do this if I am close to them as they give me energy.”
Laughing Santi continues, “If I cycle or go to the gym on my own I am tired of it, but if I go with them they always say ‘come on, you are too old for this’ and it gives me motivation to do it harder.”
Dads motivation and drive hasn’t gone unnoticed by his sailing sons either as Yago explains, “We see him train really hard and it pushes us to train harder. We could be the last 49er back on the ramp but we will look out and he is still out there.”
Training is all part and parcel of the Olympic campaign and with experience on his side Santi looks at life and competing a bit more philosophically now and whether he wins a medal in Rio or not, it won’t be the end of the world, “The medal is only a minute of satisfaction, what’s important is to enjoy the trip”.
Just like Schumacher and Jordan, if Santi had stayed away from Olympic sailing no one would have begrudged him that, but seeing him back on the circuit has only enriched a campaign toward the first Olympic Games on the South American continent. Everyone has enjoyed the trip a little more with Santi around, and maybe, just maybe, Santi will have another minute of satisfaction by standing with crew Cecilia Carranza Saroli on the Nacra 17 podium this August.