The Awards are recognized as one of the highest honours a sailor can receive in recognition of his/her outstanding achievements and this year's official award ceremony took place last night, 6 November in Estoril, Portugal at the Penha Longa monastery. Out of all of this year's fantastic nominees only two could walk away with the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year titles, and the exceptional winners for 2007 are Claire LEROY (FRA) and Ed BAIRD (USA), making this night a true tribute to match racing.
LEROY has been the # 1 skipper on the Women's ISAF World Match Race Rankings since May 2005. Like many professionals, sailing has been a consistent part of LEROY's life since her childhood. "In my family, we have been sailors for many generations," writes LEROY when asked what it was that inspired her to begin sailing. "I discovered the pleasure of sailing before I could even walk. I spent many days with my cousins learning to sail and to play with the elements that have always been the backdrop of my life; the wind and the ocean."
LEROY, skipper of Team Ideactor, has taken her love of the elements and dominated the match racing circuit both this year and last, winning the 2006 ISAF Nations Cup, the IX International Women's Match Race Criterium, the 2007 ISAF Women's Match Racing World Championships in her hometown of St Quay Portrieux, France, and the 2007 Women's Match Race European Championship. "We have been number one in match racing for more than 2 years!" says LEROY. "It's a dream come true."
2007 marks the second time that LEROY has been a candidate for the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards, as she was also previously nominated in 2005. As LEROY was announced the winner of the female ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year by ISAF President of Honour His Majesty King Constantine, she came to the stage with two of her teammates, Ophélie THÉRON and Elodie BERTRAND. "Thank you for this great honour," said LEROY, still shocked upon receiving her 2007 award. "It's very emotional to me and I would like to thank my crew. Sailing is a wonderful team sport and it's an incredible honour that the sailing community thinks that we are one of the best teams in the world - I still can't believe it!"
LEROY says she sees sailing as "Pleasure, Competition, Teamwork, and a wonderful way to improve my English!" The sailing world can expect great things from this 27 year old, whose rise to the top has only just begun. "On a personal level, [this award] is the result of four long years of hard work as well as the excellent results that I have had this year. For me, it represents a starting point for even bigger challenges."
But LEROY was not the only sailor who left last night's ceremony with a silver ISAF Rolex World Sailor Trophy and a prestigious Rolex timepiece. American Ed BAIRD took home the male 2007 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Award for his incredible achievements as helmsman aboard Alinghi, winner of the 32nd America's Cup. "There are all kinds of things that come into your mind as wanting to say for something like this, but 'wow!', is the big one. Wow, it's just amazing!" exclaimed BAIRD as he accepted his award from ISAF President of Honour His Majesty King Harald V of Norway and Arnaud BOETSCH of Rolex SA. In a voice that showed true emotion, BAIRD had no qualms about showing his appreciation, saying that Alinghi's win was, "Not just me - it was a massive effort by a big, big team... It certainly is the most wonderful thing that has come along; to win the America's Cup with this team and to have such a fantastic year and then to be recognised like this - it's magical."
BAIRD has a long history of triumphs in the world of international match racing both in and outside of the America's Cup. BAIRD is the only American to have ever won the ISAF Match Racing World Championship - in 1995, 2003 and 2004. He is the only American ever to have ranked #1 on the ISAF World Match Race Rankings list and in 1995 was honoured by his countrymen as the USA's Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. "The Cup was by far the most difficult event to win," said BAIRD when asked about his personal highlights of his career to date. "It was also the most exciting."
BAIRD also coaches sailing and has repeatedly said that he tries to keep his thinking clear and simple on the water. Often alluding to sailing as a game, BAIRD has come to be known as one of sailing's great players. In his piece 'Think Simple Thoughts' that he wrote for Sailing World Magazine in 1996, BAIRD gives out what he sees as the simple rules of sailing. No matter where his success has taken him, BAIRD always seems to maintain his calm, taking the time he needs to make the right decisions, "Because as complicated as we would like to imagine our sport, it's basically a simple game of starting first, protecting your lead and finishing strong."
All but one nominee was present last night for the Award Ceremony at the Penha Longa and no one knew ahead of time who the winners would be, making for justified anticipation from all corners. The well-rounded list of nominees for the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year award also included:
Sarah AYTON, Sarah WEBB and Pippa WILSON (GBR)
Marcelien DE KONING and Lobke BERKHOUT (NED)
Evi VAN ACKER (BEL)
Franck CAMMAS (FRA)
Vincenzo ONORATO (ITA)
Robert SCHEIDT and Bruno PRADA (BRA)
Rohan VEAL (AUS)
Along with LEROY and BAIRD, the nominee list for the 2007 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards brought together an incredible number of accomplishments in the sailing world. All who attended last night's ceremony felt honoured to be in the company of so many talented sailors and presenter Gary JOBSON encapsulated it so well when he said: "Sailing is important because it gives us a chance to enjoy freedom and sailors are goal oriented, well-travelled people who pay attention to life's details.... Our sport is all about having a good time."
The ISAF Rolex World Sailor Podcast is available in iTunes. To subscribe you need to go iTunes and in the toolbar menu, pull down Advanced > Subscribe to podcast, and then enter the following URL: http://www.appftp.com/podcasts/ISAFworldsailor2007.xml
Go to the Podcast section of your iTunes and you should see the new entry, with titles etc. Once it is downloaded you can watch in iTunes, and sync it with your ipod. (For other MP3 and MP4 music and video players, consult instructions on how to subscribe to podcasts and downloads).
For wishing to download directly rather than through an MP4 video player, open a browser and insert the following link - http://www.appftp.com/podcasts/ISAFworldsailor2007.mp4