Santiago Lange: Pursuing the podium
Published on July 25th, 2019
Argentine ace Santiago Lange is lining up for his seventh Olympic Games. His was the most remarkable story of Rio 2016, coming back from having a cancer operation to win an emotional Gold medal with Cecilia Carranza Saroli in the Nacra 17.
After growing up in the Snipe Class, trading blows with Brazilian Torben Grael enroute to winning three world championships, Lange made the switch to the Tornado catamaran for the Olympics. His success continued by winning the 2004 Worlds and bronze medals at Athens 2004 and Tormado in 2004 and Beijing 2008.
Now 57 years old, with his sights again on the podium in Tokyo 2020, he offers his thoughts in this interview with Tip & Shaft Sail Racing:
Tell us about your set-up in Japan then?
We are one year until the [Olympic] Games so our sole focus will go onto that very soon. The Olympic sailing demands a lot of my energy. I need to train very hard to keep up with the youngsters. All in all, is tough but it is very interesting.
Tell us about your training. When you say you have to train hard, what is your specific program like?
We have a program like every other Olympic athlete. We analyses everything. Every time of the year, we focus on something, and as it is still a new boat, we are learning all the time. It is still about foiling upwind or not foiling upwind. We try to be on the foils as much as possible and learn to sail on big waves in Japan. So there is plenty to learn.
A normal day in Japan would be, we wake up at seven-thirty, we do a little bit of time in the gym., and have a meeting to analyze what we will be achieving that day. Then it takes us one and a half hour to check everything on the boat from the day before or alter settings for the day. Then we sail for three to five hours a day. Then we come back get changed, debrief and look at videos and things like that and then we are done.
How do you feel you are on that learning curve and in the fleet?
We’re okay. We are where we wanted to be at in this stage. As I said it is not easy with a new boat so we cannot expect to be winning the Nacra all the time at this time. We missed out at the Worlds which was a shame, we finished third but we accomplished what we wanted which was to qualify for the Olympics. This year we managed to be on the podium in a couple of regattas. We are there but are still far away from the Australians and the Italians who are ahead of us. They are more complete than us right now.
What does the Olympic experience bring to you?
I absolutely love it. If I have to remember my life, I divide it into four years. It’s in my blood and it’s in my heart. You know sometimes, for example, the Olympic values of respect friendship and excellence I could define my life by that.
It grows with each Games?
I have feelings like last time in Rio. In the Opening Ceremony I was with my sons and I can match that experience with an Olympic gold. I said, “This is the piece between different cultures and religions in the world. Look there they are, everyone having fun, well dressed…this is what the Olympics is about.” I honestly feel that. It is a lot bigger message than just the sport and sometimes that is missed out. The older I get and the more I have been involved in the Olympics, I start noticing those powerful messages that the Olympics has.
How do you feel you are compared to Rio in terms of your performance?
Well better, for sure. One year before Rio, at this stage I was getting a surgery (for lung cancer). That doesn’t mean we are going to be better though. I think the fact that I had to go through a hard situation one year before Rio gave me a lot of energy, the power to turn that around. Today in my planning, as you said, I strongly think about how I am going to achieve the power to accomplish the goals we have set. So, we need to set a plan to get there.
Has that evolved as you got older, in terms of your mindset and your ability to do things in your head?
Yes, I think that is a cool part of being an athlete. In the beginning of your athletic career you are only moving your pieces to win. Then you start getting older and you are still willing your pieces to win but your objective is to be a better person, to enjoy more when you race. To accept more when you lose, to be happy when you win. You start opening your vision of what you are doing.
That is what I really like of what I am living now. I am still being a top athlete in the Olympics, but I am managing to open my wide angle and understand better what I want to achieve and why I am doing it. When I was young I would lose a race and it would be the end of the world. I would get frustrated for a month.
Now, I am totally different. I still enjoy the challenge of “Okay, I have done something wrong. I have to improve.” And I enjoy that process more than before because I don’t have the frustration.
Tell me about the bigger picture of where you see Olympic sailing? What is your perspective of the slate of different classes?
I think we are giving too much attention to the classes. I don’t care what I sail. I enjoy this and I enjoy that. I don’t think the general public understand with foil or if we are in a Nacra.
I don’t think speed is everything, is it?
No, it is about how we communicate our sport. For me, we need to fix the classes to be popular. In the last twenty years we have been changing the classes and killing the chances of many countries and many young sailors because it is too expensive to enter the Games.
I want to see our sport be popular so I like the kite, I like the windsurfing because they are cheap. I like the Laser as it’s cheap, pure, and simple, and we need to get nations back. We need to communicate our sport differently, so get back to having national championships. How can it be, if you take the Nacra today, there is not a single national championship.
It is the case that there are not enough boats in one country?
There is not enough boats so we have to think, something is wrong. So I would rather have kite-foiling that we can make a national championship with 70 boats or windsurf and promote those types than focus on changing classes, foiling, no foiling, this or that. Forget about it.
In my good old days I sailed a Tornado National Championship in Argentina with 70 boats. Now, the old Nacra that we sailed in Rio don’t exist anymore. There is not a single boat sailing, and the Yngling and the other one for the ladies. We should discuss how we get more young people into our sport. We need to discuss how we promote the sport, how we show the sport to people who are not sailors.
Do you have an idea of how that should happen?
I think the social media. You take the social media with people who are very incredible sailors and you go to social media and they have less followers than a second division hockey player of a team. We have to catch up on that because we know the power of social media. I have that vision.
That’s the thing with social media, once it has a momentum, an impetus, it does grow. It’s geometric.
Yes, I believe for example in Argentina our public TV wanted to show our racing for the Olympics for the whole period, for four years. They wanted to show, live, our racing in public TV in Argentina but we didn’t have any to give. At the same time, a judo girl won gold for Argentina, now Judo is shown live every time she competes internationally, on TV, publicly. You say, well we are doing something wrong. Instead of investing money in many in other things, I would put all my money in how we show our racing.
Is Olympic sailing interesting enough?
I think if we show it properly, yes. Obviously we are a sport, in my opinion which is for sure a more difficult sport to cover than hockey or judo. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a very interesting side or that it is not a beautiful sport or that people don’t like it. You have to sell it though with something.
At the moment, we are doing the World Cup Series and nothing is shown on live TV. What we really need to do is look at how we show our sport and invest money and time and brainstorm that. Hire the best we can, how are we going to sell this. Instead of deciding if the Nacra 17 will be foiling or not foiling, whether in the next Olympics the Finns should be or in or not.
The market you are trying to reach don’t care if you are foiling or not?
They don’t understand. They don’t really know what we are talking about. We are so far away and now they are talking about the Lasers, whether to change the main into a mylar sail. That’s my opinion.
So, do you have aspirations beyond the Olympics, to do something on the promotion side and what you are talking about? Or are you really looking to Tokyo and that is it?
At the moment I have to focus on Tokyo because there is only a certain amount of energy that I have but I am happy to give my opinion in any way but I want to make sure the energy goes to somewhere valuable.
So, you are not going to be the head of World Sailing in five years?
I don’t know. The important thing is that if I get into any projects I want to be in a project where what you are doing makes a change. Or it is in a direction to make whatever you are doing better.
Do you have any aspirations in design or naval architecture? All the things that you used to do?
Yes, I still do it whenever I have time. At the moment I am only focused on the Olympics and this.