Santiago (Santi) Lange is an Argentinian Olympic sailor who competed at the 1988, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2016 Olympic Summer Games. He has been selected as a Youth Olympic Games Role Model for the Buenos Aires 2018 Games.
When Santiago Lange, six-time Olympic Games sailing competitor, was diagnosed with lung cancer five months before the Olympic Games Rio 2016, he didn’t give up. Instead, he relied on the positive fundamental values that come with competing – respect, friendship and excellence – to see him through.
Those core qualities not only got him through challenging times, but are also guiding principles that apply both on and off the field – and that includes the high seas.
“Those three values accompany me wherever I go,” Lange says. “When I look back at my life, a big constant is friendship. I would not go on the road to Tokyo if I didn’t think I would make friends doing so. To have good friends, you need respect, and to compete, you need respect. It would be stupid for me to keep participating in the Olympic cycle only for winning – so I strive for excellence. So, all three words – respect, friendship and excellence – are what I do it for.”
Sport and valuable lessons beyond the field of play
As they have for him and many others, sport offers a safe space for learning life’s most important lessons, from how to work with fellow teammates to rallying together around a common goal, regardless of background.
“I think we have a challenge not only to teach the technical part of a sport, but also to teach the values that sport gives to society,” he says. “I can teach my son to play football, yes, but I must also teach the values of respect, the value of friendship, of respecting the opponent… the values of excellence.”
Lange knows first-hand how the basic principles of sport apply to the real world. The determined sailor has faced many triumphs and challenges throughout his career and personal life, but never let them deter his destiny – instead, he leaned on those positive ideals to manage the ups and downs of life.
There’s no “I” in team
While those values have helped guide Lange, his path toward excellence hit a few bumps in the road. For instance, Lange’s relationship with his sailing partner Cecilia Carranza Saroli wasn’t always perfect. Prior to their partnership, he had preconceived notions about female competitors that he eventually recognised were unfounded.
“I was against mixed-gender sailing when [the Olympic Committee] originally proposed it, basically because I felt like the physical power between men and women is different,” he admits. “I said that I felt more comfortable racing with a man. Then, Ceci came to me on a recommendation, and I just followed my heart. I realised I could still win gold by racing with her. It was an incredible journey, full of challenges I had never faced before, to be on a team with a woman. I learned a lot. Ceci has a lot of power at only 64 kilos (141 lbs), compared to my previous male partner at 74 kilos (163 lbs).”
Through every competition, challenge and trial, the close teammates pushed through and persevered together, rooted in the foundation of the Olympic spirit. Mutual understanding, friendship, solidarity and fair play bound them together, and saw them through to victory.
“I think what we've done is incredible. Our relationship is spot on with the values of Olympism.”
The power of perseverance
Conquering obstacles with his teammate wasn’t the only problem Lange would have to overcome. While he was training and preparing for one of the biggest competitions of his career, he faced his most daunting challenge yet: lung cancer.
In 2015, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent emergency surgery to remove part of his lung. Throughout his illness, he kept his sights on Rio 2016. After an incredible five-day surgery recovery period, he walked again. After 10 days, he could ride his bike. And just a few short months later, he went on to win gold in Rio with Saroli.
When most would falter and give up, Lange’s health setback only propelled him forward. His steadfast determination can be attributed to the values he learned through sport that grounded him from the beginning.
I think we have a challenge not only to teach the technical part of a sport, but also to teach the values that sport gives to societySantiago Lange
“It's very easy to explain respect in sport. The same with challenges, the same with adversity and the same with friendship. I think sport is a big key in teaching those values to society,” he says.
While taking the gold was a victory for the champion, he’s learned that winning isn’t everything and that teamwork trumps any accolades snagging the first prize yields.
“We learn as a team,” he says. “If you didn't learn from your partners, something's going wrong, because everyone should be able to teach you. When everyone buys into the plan, and into the ‘why’ you are doing this, then the strength of the team becomes a lot more powerful.”
Giving back in Buenos Aires
Looking ahead to the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018, Lange is excited for the opportunity to impart the ideals of the Olympic spirit to the many young athletes who will participate from 200 countries across the globe.
“The Youth Olympic Games is a great idea because it's a way to get younger people involved in what is the true meaning of the Olympics,” he says. “I think we need to teach sports in a way that lets youngsters find their desire, their motive, their own fire, and realise why they are doing the sport. Sport is getting more and more competitive, and more and more professional, and the structures are becoming bigger and bigger and bigger. We should use those structures to help youth achieve their dreams.”
For Lange, being in his hometown makes participating in the Youth Olympic Games Athlete Role Models programme even more special.
“Having the opportunity to be involved in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, which is happening in my own country and my own city, is one I really want to enjoy,” he says. “I feel it's a privilege for the Olympic Committee to offer me this position.”
Despite his triumphs and athletic achievements, Lange never let his success change his personal values or outlook on life.
“The difference, in the Olympics, between being fourth and winning, is nothing. I would have been the same person if we had finished in first or in fourth. I find it crazy that now I get the opportunity to do talks at important companies with important people. I always think, ‘If I had come in fourth, none of these people would be listening to me.’ But I would have been the same person. That struck me very hard. It's all about how you live your life, how you approach challenges, and how you enjoy them.”