Memories from a Friend – By Luis Soubie
It is difficult for me to write about Santiago Lange without mixing personal feeling in with the journalist’s work.
Everyone knows his official biography:
• 3 time Snipe World Champion (1985, 1993, 1995)
• Two silver medals at the Pan Am Games (1983 and 1987)
• Tornado World Champion (2004)
• 2 Olympic bronze medals in the Tornado (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008)
And now at Rio 2016, Gold in the Nacra17!
He would tell you that his biggest achievement, the one that makes him the proudest, was winning the Argentinian Optimist Nationals in 1976, because that was the beginning of thinking that “everything is possible.”
But since everybody knows most of this already, I’ll tell you several things that few people know.
In 1984, Santi returned to Argentina after studying Naval Architecture at Southampton, UK, to work for well-known yacht designer German Frers. A few months earlier, he had bought a totally destroyed wooden Snipe built in 1958 in Brazil, A-10863, which he called “Pijocho!” This is an Argentinian expression that might be translated, to be polite, as “I know it looks like shit!”
He painted the boat and then won the 1985 Worlds in Argentina at the age of 23. The boat was held together with wire and silver tape. I remember going with my Optimist to see the races; Torben Grael was there, and the late Miyuki Kai was there. Awesome racing! Two years later, Santi finished second at the Worlds in France.
In 1987, he designed the “Optimist Lange,” which revolutionized the class and the market. It has won most of the regattas since.
In 1988, with only a few months of training, he competed in the 1988 Olympics in the Soling and achieved a creditable 9th place in windy Seoul.
In 1992, he began producing the “Snipe Lange” in Chile, working with Persson. He thought there was no better way to promote the boat than by winning the Worlds again. I remember racing against him in the qualifying event in Rosario.
Santi didn´t have a Snipe of his own at the time, so he chartered a wooden boat and borrowed used sails—and won comfortably. Then he went to Brazil with Mariano Parada and won the 1993 Worlds.
Right after that he switched to the Laser to train for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he was also 9th. During that campaign, at 36 years old, he was already an “old guy” in the Laser (especially sailing the boat for the first time). He had operations on both knees, which had been shattered by the intensive training.
In 1995 he won the Snipe Worlds again, at Rimini in Italy. I was part of the Argentinian team. Santi came direct from Santiago de la Ribera, where he’d been training in the Laser, and Mariano Parada flew in from Argentina. They hadn’t seen each other since the last race of the 1993 Worlds.
His charter boat was named a mysterious “E.N.”. I asked him what it meant, and he said that at the end of the Championship he would tell me. They won without sailing the last race, and then I asked what “E.N.” was. He told me it stood for Eliot Ness, from “The Untouchables.” And in truth they were untouchable!
After this came the era of Tornado, with two Bronze medals, and the America’s Cup with the Artemis team. He also raced in the Volvo Ocean Race, and hundreds of other regattas.
In 2015, while I was racing the Worlds in Talamone, I got the news that Santi had lung cancer. Of all the people: him, who took care of his body all his life, who does not drink even a Coca Cola, had cancer! Two days later I lost the Worlds and Santiago, in the middle of this problem, took the time to send me a beautiful email that I will never forget.
He had surgery in late 2015 and lost half a lung, and after only ten days he was back on the bike and running 10km in spite of the pain.
In December last year he again jumped on the Nacra. His memory of those days is that in the first tack they did, he didn´t have the strength to get from one side of the boat to the other.
2016 was full of regattas with him competing: weak, in bad mood, working hard to come back in spite of the pain, going on only for the love of the sport.
He wrote me two months ago that they were in no condition for a medal due to his physical limitations (he is also twenty years older than the next oldest of the top 10 skippers in Rio). But then less than two weeks ago, he told me, “I feel much better and nobody worked as much as we did. We have a chance to do well.” And then I KNEW.
Yesterday he made his legend bigger, winning the first Olympic gold for Argentina in sailing.
As an Argentinian and a snipe sailor, I cannot be prouder.
He deserves it.
Photos from my personal album:
1) Me, Santiago Lange, Pablo Contouris (my crew) and Mariano Parada at the dinner of prize ceremony at ’95 Worlds in Rimini
2) Same place: Pablo Contouris, Gonzalo Martinez (Guillermo Parada´s crew), Santiago Lange, ?, Mariano Parada, me, Guillermo Parada, Hector Longarella
3) In Rimini, before the worlds
4) Santiago in 1984, the previous year of winning the Worlds in ’85, with his just painted “Pijocho”, still with silver tape all around