Published: Friday, 04 November 2016

Anticipation is high for the 2016 Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards, the most prestigious award of recognition in the dynamic sport of sailing, invites the public to cast their vote on for the coveted make and female Rolex World Sailor of the Year title. Voting is open for a period of 72 hours starting from 12:00 UTC Nov 4, allowing the public to have their say in deciding the winner.

The announcement of the 2016 female and male Rolex World Sailors of the Year will be made Nov 8 at the Casa Llotja de Mar in Barcelona, Spain – the host city of World Sailing's 2016 Annual Conference.

The winners will be decided by World Sailing's Member National Authorities, attendees on the night and for the first time, the voting public.


Peter Burling and Blair Tuke

Pressure affects people in different ways. When current Rolex World Sailors of the Year, New Zealand’s Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, arrived at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, they were far and away clear favourites to take the 49er gold with a quite astonishing four year run of results. And while others collapse under the pressure of being tagged as favourites, it just didn’t register with the Kiwi boys. They took gold with two races to spare.

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But the confidence that they took in to the Games did not come around through luck, it was a result of hard work and mastering the skiff in all conditions which built up the one thing that every sports team strives for, that air of invincibility that gives a team an edge over their competitors before a regatta has begun.

The pair started the 2016 Rolex World Sailor of the Year period with a win in the South American Championship, quickly followed by the 2015 49er world title. The 2016 world title was ticked off next. Then came the 2016 European title. The Sailing World Cup Hyeres title followed. Kieler Woche carried on the run. The titles just kept on coming.

A bronze in the South American Championships sailed in the waters of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games just a month before they took a tilt at the gold medal they had set their sights on and worked so hard towards. It was the first time in four years the ‘invincibles’ had tasted defeat in the Olympic class.

The question was, how would they respond to finishing anywhere other than on the top step of the podium? Burling and Take answered in their synonymous cool, calm and collected style, dominating the fleet to claim the coveted gold with races to spare.

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The nomination for Burling and Tuke isn’t just all about the Olympic classes either, despite the obvious dominance. The pair are an integral part of Emirates Team New Zealand‘s challenge for the America’s Cup. Balancing an Olympic campaign and the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series has only further strengthened their tags as ‘sailing’s hottest properties’. 

Sandwiched between two 49er event wins in Europe, Burling and Tuke notched up an America’s Cup World Series win in New York, USA in spectacular fashion. With Burling at the helm and their catamaran stuck on the starting buoy’s anchor line, partner-in-crime Tuke jumped in to the water to unhook before climbing back onboard and helping the team to race and series victory.

Seemingly in sync with one another, Burling and Tuke continue to impress on the world sailing stage and are undoubtedly a formidable partnership. 

Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic

Sports commentators can often be heard using the phrase ‘they have peaked at the right time’. When Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic arrived at Rio 2016, one must have been able to hear the famous phrase in hushed tones. Come medal time, it was being shouted as they took the first Olympic sailing gold medal for Croatia in the Men’s 470.

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In a slow start to the nomination period, Fantela and Marenic finished 13th in the 470 South American Championship in San Isidro, Argentina. But that was just lulling their rivals in to a false sense of security.

Immediately after and in the same waters of San Isidro, the pair took the lessons learned and applied them to halt the run of great class rivals, Australia’s Mat Belcher and Will Ryan’s run of world titles by taking the 2016 championship.

Falling just outside the medals in the European Championships, the ‘peaking’ began. A win at the Sailing World Cup Hyeres was followed by another Sailing World Cup win, this time at Weymouth and Portland. 

Fantela and Marenic must have been brimming with confidence going in to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, although with their humble personalities, they would never show it. The long-time friends displayed measured and consistent sailing at a challenging venue to rise above a strong fleet and claim Croatia’s first Olympic sailing gold medal. If not for scheduling, they would have also boasted Croatia’s first Olympic sailing medal, but compatriot Tonci Stipanovic beat them by a mere 24 hours. But that could not change the fact they will now forever be known as Olympic champions.

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Although their sailing had peaked at the right time, their friendship continues to peak and undoubtedly parallels their success. As their friendship grows, so does the medal count. 

The seeds of success were sown at a young age for the Croatian duo when Marenic moved in with Fantela’s family. At that point, a friendship and plot for Olympic success emerged. Growing up with a dominant Australian 470 team who, with crew changes, were showing no signs of slowing down. The pair had to reach a high level of performance, and more importantly maintain that level when it counted most. In 2016, Fantela and Marenic reached that level and wouldn’t let go until they could call themselves world and Olympic champions. They had peaked at the right time.

Santiago Lange

With age comes experience. He’s been there and done it. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. No one would begrudge him the win. He commands respect.

There are so many clichés that could be thrown around to describe Argentina’s Santiago Lange. And while they all apply, Lange will be the first person to ignore them and say he doesn’t deserve the accolades he has received since winning Rio 2016 Nacra 17 gold, but quite simply, he does.

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An instantly likeable person, his down-to-earth demeanour and gentle persona defy the racer inside that fuelled an Olympic challenge. And it wasn’t just any old campaign. It was one dogged by health issues and counteracted with determination and strength.

A year out from the first Olympic Games on his home continent, Lange’s dream hit a stumbling block. He received the news that no one wants to hear, never mind someone in the midst of a rigorous Olympic campaign on the physically demanding Nacra 17. Lange had cancer.

With a lung removed and the cancer under control, Lange used the one thing he loved more than sailing to get back to fitness – his family. With sons Klaus and Yago competing in the 49er class, Lange regained his strength and stamina with some good healthy competition in the gym and out cycling with his two boys. As well as fitness, there was family bragging rights at stake.

Back up to speed health wise, Lange returned to competition with Cecilia Carranza Saroli in the mixed class. Top place finishes were hard to come by upon his return with the Australians and French taking a stranglehold on the fleet. But that only made the underdog story all the more real.

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In the first Olympic outing for the Nacra 17, Lange used his experience, something often underrated in Olympic sailing, to control the field and build a score that edged him closer, day by day, to the coveted gold medal.

The Rio 2016 Medal Race seemed to encapsulate and echo a four-year journey for the Argentinean. Struggle, determination and then success. Lange and Carranza Saroli survived two penalties and fought up to sixth place to claim the gold medal by a single point.

In an outburst of emotion, quite fittingly shared with his sons who had swum to meet their champion father and partner, Lange drank in every moment. There was a happy ending to the fairy tale story of the Olympic Games.

Giles Scott

Turning up to an event as favourite always adds that little bit of pressure. When one comes from a country that has dominated a class and is following in the footsteps of one of the greatest Olympic sailors, it somewhat multiples that pressure. That was the unenviable task that Great Britain’s Giles Scott had to deal with and he passed the test with flying colours.

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As part of the Land Rover BAR America’s Cup team with compatriot and five-time Olympic medallist Sir Ben Ainslie, Scott was juggling an Olympic campaign with sailing in the America’s Cup World Series throughout the nomination period.

Stepping out from the shadow of Ainslie and entrusted with the Finn Olympic crown, Scott had to perform or else face heading back home and telling his friend and teammates he had dropped the Olympic baton for his country. This was not an option. 

Carrying on in his so far impressive Olympic pursuit, which was littered with titles, Scott claimed the Finn Gold Cup in Takapuna, New Zealand at the end of 2015 before a second place at the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofia, the first time he had not been on the top step of the podium since April 2013. 

Scott was, however, back to winning ways in Gaeta, Italy as he secured yet another Finn Gold Cup before he took gold in his home waters of Weymouth and Portland at the Sailing World Cup. It was a winning goodbye to his homeland before he had to move on to Rio 2016, and the cauldron of the Olympic Games. 

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Every single Finn sailor in Rio de Janeiro knew Scott was the one to beat. He had a target on his chest for the whole fleet to aim at, the pressure was on. Down to business, Scott steamed ahead of the fleet and secured the Finn Olympic gold in a style that even his predecessor Ainslie couldn’t manage. He had won with a race to spare. If you are going to continue on a country tradition and win gold, you do it in style and step out of the shadows of those before to cast your own.

Usually reserved and business like in his regatta wins, Scott crossed the Rio 2016 finish line with gold secured and the pressure valve was released. What lay beneath the surface was a character bursting with both self and national pride, safe in the knowledge he could return home, and to Land Rover BAR HQ, with his head held high and a gold medal around his neck.

Damien Seguin

When the choice is to win a gold medal or inspire the next generation of sailors in your country and you pick the latter, it goes some way to explain the character of a person. Fortunately for France’s Damien Seguin, he killed two birds with one stone, and it couldn’t have been more deserved.

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Born with only one hand, Seguin is never one to make excuses of his disability. Quite the opposite. He harbours ambitions of being the first Skipper with a disability to complete the Vendee Globe, but on his terms. No changes, no adaptations, no exceptions, no excuses. The best sailor wins.

That philosophy is how he approaches every regatta. If he is the best, he will win. And win he did as the nomination period started with the Para World Sailing Championship title and Sailing World Cup double in Melbourne, Australia at the end of 2015.

In a class jam packed with multiple world champions, Paralympic champions and Sailing World Cup winners, Seguin was on the podium at both Sailing World Cup Hyeres and the 2016 Para Worlds in Medemblik, the Netherlands in the run up to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

The time had come. Chasing a third Paralympic medal, Seguin stayed in contention at the top of the fleet in every race. As the pressure grew and sailors around him began to falter, the always-relaxed Seguin continued to sail the only way he knew how ­– cool, calm, collected and in contention.

With sailors and friends from his disabled sailing association in France making the journey to Brazil to line the shore and support their star, Seguin could not and would not disappoint. He had guaranteed himself another Paralympic medal with one race to go, but he wanted that gold.

In the final race, Seguin kept the only sailor that could challenge him, the London 2012 Paralympic champion Helena Lucas, behind him. The gold and the inspiration he craved was his.

Ironically, before a Rio 2016 race started, Seguin had that inspiration already, but such is his humble nature he is the only one that couldn’t see it. Seguin is the type of person that will say the gold is for all those that have helped him and that he has inspired, but for everyone else, that gold was just for him, he had earned it. 


Marit Bouwmeester

The Laser Radial class has seen newcomers progress and Olympic medallists continue on their upward trend throughout the Rio 2016 quadrennial to form a formidable class line-up. But it was the Netherlands’ Marit Bouwmeester who rose above the fleet and showed she was the most determined and focused to claim the coveted Olympic gold medal.

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Bouwmeester began the nomination period with a silver medal in Abu Dhabi at the Sailing World Cup Final before making the short trip to Oman, where she again picked up a silver at the 2015 Laser Radial World Championships. 

At the turn of the year, the Dutch sailor made the trip to Rio de Janeiro in the lead up to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and competed at the Brazilian Laser Radial Championships and the Brazilian Nationals. Bouwmeester won both in quick succession to gain some confidence ahead of the summer showpiece in a venue that was touted to offer a range of sailing conditions.

A silver at Sailing World Cup Miami and a gold at the European Championships followed before Bouwmeester fell outside of the medals in the 2016 Worlds in Mexico by finishing fourth.

The Dutch sailor is renowned for her fierce competitiveness and drive and obviously a fourth place finish was not acceptable. She was determined to make amends and would take the disappointment to add to the fire that burns inside her to win.

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Bouwmeester returned home to win the Delta Lloyd Regatta and continued her strong racing to take the Sailing World Cup Weymouth and Portland title, the final international regatta before her assault on the Olympic title – an assault she had waited four years for after claiming silver at London 2012. She wanted, needed to go one better. 

With two wins in Rio de Janiero already under her belt, Bouwmeester took her Rio form to sail a steady and consistent regatta which gave her an advantage heading in to the all important Medal Race. A race in which the memories of her last Olympic outing were still fresh, she would not make any mistakes this time around. 

In a to-and-fro finale, Bouwmeester put to rest any Olympic demons she had. As she crossed the finish line, Bouwmeester knew she had the Olympic gold medal that she had coveted so much. 

With a knack for punishing opponents when the time comes, Bouwmeester kept her cool and sailed an accomplished regatta when it mattered the most. Taking the experience of her earlier Rio de Janiero wins and the London 2012 lessons, the Dutch Radial sailor bettered her previous Olympic result by one position. But what a position, the gold was finally hers. 

Cecilia Carranza Saroli

When you’re sailing in a team, you have to perform different roles inside and outside of the boat. For Argentina’s Cecilia Carranza Saroli, she became the ultimate teammate in an Olympic campaign that could have been so different. But you have to go through the bad to savour the good.

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Having sailed in the Laser Radial at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games, Saroli decided to make the switch and compete with a partner for the Rio 2016 Olympia. The newly introduced mixed Multihull class – the Nacra 17 – presented a new opportunity for Saroli, providing her with a new dimension of Olympic campaigning.

Making the change from a one-person dinghy to two-person multihull was always going to be a challenge but Saroli would face more emotions than most. Support, heartache, team work, and in the end, triumph. She would taste it all.

As Lange was undergoing treatment and subsequently getting back to fitness, Saroli had to put her Olympic dream on hold. Instead of sharpening her boat skills with her partner, she had to do the most important job of all – support – not in the boat,  but out of it in everyday life.

Some things are more important in life than sailing and health is one of those. Saroli waited and supported patiently in the ultimate test of a partnership. She could have easily given up on her Olympic dream or moved on to another partner, but she did neither.

When it came to Lange’s return, the pair worked their way through the rigours of the physical class, testing, training and working on their rhythm before moving on to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. 

It was in South America where the dream began and finished. Taking the strength and determination their time out of the boat had given them, they began down a dream path to Olympic gold. 

Experience was the buzz word for the two Argentinean sailors. Marrying her own Olympic experience with Lange’s in a class making its Olympic debut, they sailed to the top of the leaderboard heading in to the Medal Race. They then took the experience of the previous year, determination and strength, to clinch gold from the face of defeat when they had two penalties turned against them.

Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze

Since the 49erFX was introduced in to the Olympic programme, there have been gains made at different points within the quadrennial and with four separate world champions, it was always going to be a wide open field at Rio 2016.

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The nomination period begun for 49erFX sailors Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze in neighbouring Argentina where they took two silver medals in quick succession at the South American Championships and World Championships.

Mixed results followed in the Sailing World Cup series and 2016 World Championships in which they only finished on the podium once, at Sailing World Cup Hyeres. 

With two wins from two Olympic Test Events, Grael and Kunze returned home to sail in the South American Championships just ahead of the summer showpiece. They placed just outside the medals in fourth, the first time they had not won on the waters of Guanabara Bay during the quad. But this would only spur them on.

Just like every 49erFX regatta that had gone before, there was no clear favourite. It wasn’t outside the realms of possibility that an outsider could come out of nowhere to win in the wide open class.

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As racing started there were mixed results for all teams. Podium positions changed constantly. The wide-open class was, well, wide open.

It would all come down to the Medal Race, the very final race of the Olympic Sailing Competition. It was Brazil’s last hope of winning a sailing medal and Grael and Kunze were in contention. They were one of four teams that could win gold, but they were also one of four teams who could leave with nothing.

Almost predictably, the final race was a game of cat and mouse. New Zealand’s Alex Maloney and Molly Meech seemed to have taken the initiative and were leading the way, but it wasn’t over for the home team. They chose the opposite side of the race course to their Kiwi rivals. It had paid off. They were leading on the last downwind leg, but the New Zealander’s were chasing hard. 

Grael and Kunze held off the challenge and claimed gold by just two seconds. When they hit the shores of Flamengo Beach, they were greeted by an adoring crowd who lifted them out of the water to celebrate a famous victory.

Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark

The Olympic Games is the pinnacle event in sailing. Held every four years, it takes focus and drive to campaign and makes participation at the biggest event in sport all the more special. However, for those who miss out on their targets, it is a long four-year wait to set the record straight. 

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Great Britain’s 470 sailors, Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark waited and waited, methodically planning their assault on the gold medal they had missed out on in their home waters of London 2012. In Rio 2016, the four-year plan was completed when the long-time friends climbed on to the top step of the Olympic podium to collect their gold medal.

The pair began the nomination period with a silver medal in the 2015 World Championships in Israel before claiming the Sailing World Cup title Final title in Abu Dhabi. There was disappointment next as the duo placed 15th in the 2016 World Championships in Argentina, the worst position they had finished in a regatta for the entire quad.

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With all results in sport, it’s not always about a single result, but what you do next and how you bounce back from the disappointment. Mills and Clark came out fighting. They won the Sailing World Cup Hyeres title before heading to their home waters of Weymouth and Portland to claim another Sailing World Cup gold. Almost poetically, the final regatta before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was at the venue of their London 2012 silver medal, the result they were aiming to better. 

With top eight finishes in each race and with team after team faltering, the British pair knew that barring a complete disaster in the Medal Race the gold that had been their primary focus for four years would be theirs. 

There was no such melt down or collapse. An Olympic gold medal was finally secured. They had stayed out of trouble in the final race to cross the finish line as champions. 

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With so much support throughout the campaign from friends and family, and that support being in Rio to see all the endeavours come to fruition, the girls sailed straight to Flamengo Beach to celebrate among the thousands of fans that lined the shore.

Charline Picon

Sailors, just like any sports competitors, have faith in their own ability and will aim for a win. Some will even make a prediction of their result. For France’s Charline Picon, her prediction came from a French saying, ‘Jamais deux san trois'. (Never two without three.) For her, the third would be an Olympic gold medal.

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Picon’s saying came off the back of two wins at the Rio 2016 Test Events held in the waters of the Olympic Games, and although it would come true, it wouldn’t come as easy as just saying the words for the French windsurfer.

After Picon uttered those words, the Rolex World Sailor of the Year nomination period begun, and it was not a good start. Returning to France to compete in the Semaine Olympique Francaise, Picon could only manage a finish in the mid-teens. 

Two World Championships followed. Picon finished seventh in Oman for the 2015 championships and sixth in Israel for 2016. Her prediction was not looking good.

Picon would have to endure another seventh place at the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofia before returning to the podium. Heading back home to compete in the Sailing World Cup Hyeres, Picon finished in third to claim the bronze medal.

That bronze medal seemed to be the spark for what was to come. Picon claimed the European Championship title in Helsinki, Finland to ensure that she would go to Rio de Janeiro as a recent gold medallist. Confidence breeds confidence.

With two wins from two Rio 2016 Test Events, it was crunch time. ‘Jamais deux san trois'. 

Twelve gruelling Olympic races could not separate a competitive field. There were six sailors in contention for the podium heading in to the Women’s RS:X Medal Race and Picon was tied for third. Nevermind a third win, there was just as much chance Picon could leave with nothing.