Santiago Lange fights back after cancer battle

Santiago Lange of Argentina celebrates winning the gold medal in the Nacra 17 Mixed class at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Santiago Lange of Argentina celebrates winning the gold medal in the Nacra 17 Mixed class at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Having previously won two bronze medals, the Argentinian fought back from cancer and subsequent lung operation to win Olympic gold at Rio 2016. Now he is once again aiming for glory at Tokyo 2020. 

At 59 years old, Argentinian sailor Santiago Lange will make his seventh Olympic Games appearance in Tokyo next year.

After a period of confinement that restricted athletes from training as they normally would, the sailing legend finally resumed his journey to Tokyo this week with a long-awaited return to the water.

Along with his Nacra 17 partner Cecilia Carranza, Lange was training for the Olympics in Barcelona when the pandemic began. Their plan had been to fly directly from Spain to Tokyo prior to competing in the Games. However, with recent developments, they find themselves back in Argentina beginning the long journey back to the Olympics.

While the postponement of the Games threw their plans into disarray, Lange is well aware that there are more important things at stake: “Life is above the Games,” he told Marca Claro.

In an interview with Clarín, he put the current situation into perspective, saying "we have to prioritise health and Olympic values upon the personal interests of athletes."

Life is above the Games.

Lange is in a unique position to talk about life. He was already one of his sport’s biggest draws prior to the Olympic Games Rio 2016, having competed at five Olympics and winning two bronze medals. However, he still lacked one thing: an Olympic gold medal.

"I wouldn't say that the two bronzes were not enough for me. Not at all. But I knew that we could win the gold,” he told the Olympic Channel.

Lange, the man who competed in his first Olympics (Seoul 1988) with a borrowed boat and sails, dreamt of gold.

When he met Cecilia Carranza, a new adventure began - the quest to qualify for Rio in a new category: the Mixed Nacra 17.

The sailing team had already reached their goal when everything changed.

In 2014, Lange started getting sick regularly. A visit to the doctor revealed he had lung cancer, which forced him to have surgery at Quiron Hospital in Barcelona to remove part of his lung.

"This was always hard for me to understand: why was this happening to me? But to be defeated, never. This was the reality that I was living in and I had to go through it,” he recalled.

While the surgery was a success, his comeback wasn’t an easy one. The loss of lung capacity made workouts much harder than before.

"The nine months between the surgery to Rio were the biggest effort of my sport career by far", remembered Lange.

Santiago Lange of Argentina and Cecilia Carranza Saroli of Argentina compete in the Nacra 17 Mixed class at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Santiago Lange of Argentina and Cecilia Carranza Saroli of Argentina compete in the Nacra 17 Mixed class at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

But in the end, it was all worth it.

Lange and Carranza entered the medal race ranked first. But winning gold would be far from easy.

"The medal race encapsulated in 20 minutes all that my life has been about. Adversities, and getting up and going on,” said Lange.

When the race began, the pair incurred what Carranza described as “the worst penalty”, which saw them fall back to last place. But relying on a strategy that was the opposite of their competitors, they reached the second buoy in sixth place. Just placing in the top three would see them win the gold medal, but the anxiety of leading the race led them to make another mistake, and incur a second penalty.

Once again they had to fight their way back, eventually crossing the finish line in sixth place.

"I thought we had lost all the medals,” recalled Lange.

He couldn’t have been more wrong. They had won the gold medal and with it achieved something that made the long, arduous road behind them all worthwhile.

Now, with Tokyo 2020 in their sights, the aim is the same: Olympic glory.

The Santiago Lange story (extended version)
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