Argentine cancer survivor wins Olympic sailing gold at 54
RIO DE JANEIRO — Santiago Lange lost count of how many times he broke down during the celebration on the shore of Guanabara Bay, where one of the more remarkable stories of the Olympics played out.
“It was many,” said Lange, a 54-year-old Argentine who became the oldest medalist at the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Lange, a cancer survivor and six-time Olympian, and crewmember Cecilia Carranza Saroli won the first Olympic gold medal in the Nacra 17 mixed catamaran class Tuesday at the sailing regatta. What followed at Flamengo Beach were unending rounds of group hugs, handshakes and backslaps.
And, yes, go ahead and cry along with him, Argentina.
“These whole games have been incredible for me,” said Lange, who marched alongside sons Yago and Klaus during the opening ceremony. “They’ve been a very emotional games. Watching the racing of my sons, and my sons watching my racing, and today celebrating with them. It’s just been too much for me.”
Already a two-time bronze medalist in the discontinued Tornado catamaran class, Santiago was the most popular guy in the boat basin. As he and Saroli came to shore, his sons, who sail in the 49er class, jumped into the water to greet them.
“My children swam to the ship,” Lange said. “They had a regatta yesterday and were disqualified unjustly. If not they’d be fighting for a medal. So, what more can you ask from life?”
The shore-side celebration lasted for several minutes, with several people waving Argentine flags. They’d probably still be standing in the surf if it weren’t for media obligations and the medal ceremony.
After receiving his gold medal, Lange hopped off the podium and ran over to hug his sons.
Lange had to beat lung cancer before he had a chance to beat the fleet.
He was diagnosed last year and had his left lung removed.
“I was very lucky to find it,” Lange said. “Probably if I wasn’t travelling so much and wasn’t so tired it wouldn’t have been found. I see myself as very lucky.”
Lange and Saroli won the gold after finishing sixth in the medal race, rallying from last after being penalized at the start.
They took the gold by just one point over Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin of Australia. Thomas Zajac and Tanja Frank of Austria won the bronze.
Zajac said other sailors sometimes joke about Lange being “the old man. But he’s shown everyone. He’s here.”
On the busiest day of the regatta, Caleb Paine won the Finn class medal race and took the bronze, the first sailing medal for the United States at the Rio Games. Britain’s Giles Scott had clinched the gold two days earlier. Silver went to Vasilij Zbogar of Slovenia.
“That’s pretty awesome. I was thinking about that today, and adding to the U.S. medal count is pretty cool and I’m excited about that,” Paine said.
The Americans lead the all-time Olympic sailing medals table with 60. They were whitewashed at the London Games, failing to win an Olympic sailing medal for the first time since 1936.
“I’ve worked for this for a long time and I’ve been sailing for a very long time, so for good things to come together at the right time is what it’s all about,” said Paine, who beat 2008 silver medalist Zach Railey during the selection process. “I’m happy to come away with a third but look forward to maybe down the line coming back again and going for gold.”
Three other gold medals were decided.
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke of New Zealand clinched the 49er gold with a race to spare, capping a dominating four years in which their only loss came in a Rio regatta last month. The silver and bronze will be decided Thursday.
“Blair and myself are absolutely stoked,” Burling said. “It’s been a massive four years for us and we’ve really impressive performances along the way. It’s exactly what we wanted to do. We’re just on top of the world at the moment.”
The Kiwis have an unassailable 34-point lead over Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel of Germany. Defending gold medalists Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen of Australia are three points back in third.
Tom Burton of Australia won the Laser gold medal after escaping from Tonci Stipanovic’s attempt to sail him to the back of the fleet at the start. Stipanovic came in already having been assured of at least the silver. His is the first Olympic sailing medal for Croatia. Bronze went to Sam Meech of New Zealand.
Brazil’s Robert Scheidt fell just short in his attempt to become the first sailor and first Brazilian to win six Olympic medals. Although he won the medal race, he finished fourth overall, four points behind Meech.
Marit Bouwmeester of the Netherlands won the gold medal in the women’s Laser Radial, upgrading the silver she won in London. Annalise Murphy of Ireland took the silver and Anne-Marie Rindom of Denmark the bronze.
Defending bronze medalist Evi Van Acker of Belgium finished fourth. Van Acker fell ill earlier in the regatta and struggled. Her coach said she contracted a severe intestinal infection while training on polluted Guanabara Bay last month.
Later Tuesday, Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark of Britain clinched the women’s 470 gold medal with Wednesday’s medal race to spare. They were silver medalists in London. Six teams, including the United States, are in contention for silver and bronze.