The ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards takes place during the International Sailing Federation's (ISAF) Annual Conference and gather the cream of the sailing world - top-class international sailors, officials, as well as distinguished guests. The Awards, held each November, are recognised as the highest honour a sailor may receive and celebrate outstanding achievement during the preceding twelve-month period, in this case from 1 September 2010 and 31 August 2011.
Competition for the Awards was formidable, with four outstanding female and five equally exceptional male candidates from diverse disciplines of the sport short-listed from a list of nominations made by the public at large. The winners were decided by the votes of the 137 Member National Authorities of ISAF. To ensure that suspense was maintained until the very last minute, the nominees were not informed of the verdict until the official announcement itself.
Double Olympic gold medallist and ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year in 2000, Shirley Robertson, hosted the ceremony, conducting interviews with members of the near 450-strong audience, comprising top sailors and other eminent guests. The Awards were presented by ISAF President of Honour HM King Constantine, ISAF President Göran Petersson and Colette Bennett of Rolex in San Juan's historic and scenic Cuartel de Ballaja.
Second success for Tunnicliffe
Anna Tunnicliffe has become only the third female nominee in the 18-year history of the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards to be awarded the honour for a second time, following in the footsteps of Ellen MacArthur (GBR) in 2001 and 2005 as well as Sofia Bekatorou and Emilia Tsoulfa (GRE) in 2002 and 2004. Tunnicliffe's triumph arrives on the back of another year of achievement in which she became the ISAF Sailing World Cup champion in Women's Match Racing.
Away from the match-racing circuit, Tunnicliffe has proved her versatility, notably in becoming the Snipe Women's World Champion. Indeed, over the 12-month qualification period for the Awards, the 29-year old only twice returned from a regatta without a medal. She expressed her delight, and surprise, with the announcement, admitting, "It is so amazing to win the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year award again, and I truly did not expect it this year, as I was up against so many great competitors, and so many fine accomplishments. When I first read the bios of all the competitors, it is pretty impressive and then when they showed the videos of everybody it puts it all into a new perspective - you know you are up against great competition."
It marks only the third time an American female has won the Award since its inception in 1994, although each victory has come in the past six years, marking a significant shift following a period of dominance by European athletes. Tunnicliffe claimed the honour for the first time two years ago in Busan, South Korea, following in the footsteps of her great rival Paige Railey, the first United States female to receive the Award back in 2006.
Over a decade long career, English-born Tunnicliffe, whose parents moved to Perrysburg, Ohio, when she was 12 years old, has mastered Laser, Snipe and Match Racing sailing, collecting medals from all corners of the globe. Her outgoing and charming persona belies a steely, competitive spirit. For an unprecedented three consecutive years, this athlete formed at the North Cape Yacht Club in Michigan, has won the prestigious US Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year title, and been nominated for an impressive six years in a row: testament to her consistency over a sustained period, often considered the barometer of true sporting greatness.
Tunnicliffe's career has been on a steady upward curve ever since she began professionally in 2002, when her initial focus, and passion, was Laser sailing. After years of persistent success, she was propelled to the world stage in 2008, winning the gold medal in Laser Radial at the Beijing Olympics, and in doing so becoming the first American female to win an Olympic medal since 1988, when women's sailing featured as part of the competition schedule for the first time. The confidence gained in the waters of Qingdao propelled her to a new level. Tunnicliffe picked up an array of honours including the ISAF Sailing World Cup in Laser Radial in 2009, before embarking on a new course.
Gradually, Tunnicliffe veered away from Laser sailing, where she was the undisputed world number 1 for a considerable time, moving into Women's Match Racing with her eye set on the Olympic berth for the USA team at the 2012 Games. The change in discipline has required a significant transformation in tactics and approach given that she is no longer on the water alone, instead guiding a competitive team of elite sailors. A transformation that has been both challenging and invigorating, as Tunnicliffe reveals, "I have had to learn a lot of different things but it is such a fun discipline of the sport and so competitive. I have a fantastic team with me, keeping us on track and helping us around the race course."
Tunnicliffe has attacked the transition with great gusto and made outstanding progress, moving from 36th in ISAF Women's World Match Racing rankings in March 2009 to the lofty first place she reached in September 2011. It has not always been easy and she pinpoints the difficulties, "The biggest challenge from switching from the Laser Radial to match racing is obviously working with the team; before it was all about me. I did what I wanted to do; I did the events I wanted to do. Now, it is a lot of compromise especially as we all have lives outside of sailing. However, we have a close bond and a great understanding of one another and we make it all work." Tunnicliffe is full of praise for her crew comprising longstanding colleagues Molly Vandemoer and Debbie Capozzi, "To hear them announce Anna Tunnicliffe as winner ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year, it was not only my name but an achievement for all of us and we are all very excited."
The trio began a fruitful 2011 ISAF Sailing World Cup campaign in January at US SAILING's Rolex Miami OCR where they won the silver medal. Bronze in Palma, Spain, and Hyères, France, was followed by their first gold medal at the Skandia Sail For Gold Regatta in Weymouth, Great Britain, in August. At the final regatta of the series in Kiel, Germany, they finished fifth overall but this was enough to secure them the overall World Cup title.
Tunnicliffe took a break from Match Racing in November 2010, when with Vandemoer, she sailed at the Snipe Women's World Championship in St. Petersburg, USA. True to form they won the competition which was followed up with the US national title in March 2011. Fully adhering to the International Snipe Class motto: 'Serious sailing, Serious fun'.
An intense period awaits Tunnicliffe, starting with the upcoming 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships in Perth, the most important international sailing event of the year and a springboard for the challenges lying ahead in 2012. The most significant of which lies in the form of qualification for the United States team for the 2012 London Olympic Games. The final trials will take place in Weymouth, England in the spring of next year.
Pending a successful Olympic trial, the focus for Tunnicliffe and her team, will be to mount the most elevated part of the podium come the Games themselves and in particular on 11 August 2012, when the Women's Olympic Match Racing competition is decided. Olympic qualification is a major theme in the Tunnicliffe household as husband and training partner Bradley Funk is also aiming to qualify for the Games, as the United States Laser representative.
Since the nomination period for the 2011 Awards closed on 31 August 2011, Tunnicliffe has barely relented. In fact, if anything, her form has become even more impressive. She claimed first place in the 2011 Santa Maria Cup, part of the US Women's Match Racing Championships, enjoyed success in the first stages of the US Olympic trials, and has maintained her lead at the summit of the ISAF Women's Match Race World Rankings.
Should her star continue to rise, Anna Tunnicliffe could well become the first woman to claim three ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards.
Joy at last for Spanish pair
It is a case of third time lucky for Iker Martínez and Xabier Fernández. The world's greatest sailing duo have twice been nominated for the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards. In 2002, they missed out to three-time winner Ben Ainslie, before Brazilian Robert Scheidt took the plaudits in 2004. Eleven years on from their first nomination, these sailing legends may now, deservedly, see their name inscribed in the list of the sport's greats. It is the second time a Spanish crew has won the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Award following Tornado World Champions Fernando Echavarri and Antón Paz back in 2005.
The Spanish duo were unable to attend the Award ceremony as, fittingly, they are currently at sea competing for Team Telefónica in the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. Through a video feed recorded on the Team Telefónica boat, the pair confirmed that they will be celebrating this prestigious achievement despite the immediate distractions of an ocean race, commentin, "The Award is recognition for all the sacrifices and hard work not only throughout the last 12 months, but also during the last 12 years. It's a prize for our families, who have been suffering because of our absences for such a long time without complaining. This is for them."
Martínez, 34, and Fernández, 35, have enjoyed a long association, "We have known each other since 1988, when we where both sailing Optimist, but we only decided to start competing as a team in 1999, when we switched to the 49er class. We started sailing in a bid to represent Spain at the 2000 Olympics." Success was swift and they have dominated the class for the best part of a decade. Amongst their honours are two Olympic medals (gold in Athens 2004, silver in Beijing 2008), three World Championship titles (2002, 2004 and 2010) and as many European Championship titles (2002, 2007 and 2008). Through twelve years of intense hours on the water, they have experienced more highs than lows and have seen each other grow into the champions they are today.
This illustrious crew are currently in the Atlantic Ocean, at the beginning of the enormous adventure that is the Volvo Ocean Race: a challenging and highly tactical mission which will keep them occupied until early July 2012. It is their third Volvo Ocean Race: Martínez is skippering the 10-strong crew, Fernández is the main trimmer.
The duo made their offshore bow alongside Bouwe Bekking on movistar in 2005-2006 Volvo Ocean Race, making their own bit of history. During a training session in April 2005, with Martínez at the helm, the crew set a new world speed record when sailing 530 miles, over 24 hours, at an average of 22 knots. During the 2008-2009 campaign when, again under the guidance of Bekking, and with Martínez as co-skipper, they helped Telefónica Blue to third place overall. This time they are hoping to go even better, admitting, "Having taken the right decisions in what we asked the designers to do regarding the evolution of the boat, we have full confidence in our team mates, a very compact and talented group of great sailors."
Offshore sailing has become a recent obsession for the pair and far from limited to the Volvo Ocean Race. On New Year's Eve 2010, they embarked on their first double-handed non-stop round the world race aboard the IMOCA60 MAPFRE having relatively little experience in the class. The Basque duo had to adapt to new, complicated technology and train themselves to be able to handle the inevitable onboard repairs which form part of offshore racing. A far cry from Olympic sailing and races lasting under an hour.
Fourteen boats started the Barcelona World Race and after just ten months of training aboard an IMOCA60, Martínez and Fernández returned to Barcelona in second place. They completed the 25,000 mile course in 94 days, 21 hours, 17 minutes and 35 seconds and picked up the Pacific Trophy for the fastest boat to complete the Cook Strait to Cape Horn section of the race.
The twosome declared before the race that they would happily relinquish overall victory in favour of competing the race without stopping. They were true to their pledge and needed no external assistance on route, despite dwindling food supplies during the final week. The winning boat - Virbac-Paprec 3 - which finished a day earlier, was forced to make an interruption. Poignantly, Martínez and Fernández were the first Spaniards to finish amongst a highly competitive fleet although the physical aspect of the race took its toll, perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that Fernández lost 17kg and Martínez 10kg during the three months at sea.
Although their recent focus has switched to offshore sailing, Martínez and Fernández are still intrinsically linked with the 49er class. They claimed a gold medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004 before a silver medal in Beijing, where they lost out to the Danish duo Jonas Warrer and Martin Kirketerp. Athens is a city which has been kind to the Spaniards, given that in 2004 they claimed one of their three World Championship titles, the others arriving in 2002 in Kaneohe Bay, HI, USA, and most recently in Freeport, Bahamas in 2010.
In August 2011 they took a break from Volvo Ocean Race training and returned to the 49er at the Weymouth and Portland International Regatta, over a year since they had last competed in the class. Typically, they made a positive impression. In one of the most exciting finales of the regatta, Martínez and Fernández finished on equal points with fellow ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year nominee Nathan Outteridge who ultimately claimed gold due to a better Medal Race finish. It demonstrated their skill in switching from large, powerful boats designed for open-water racing, to sailing a 16m boat in tight, tactical race conditions.
For over a decade this incredible sailing team has stood at the forefront of the sport and they show no signs of relaxing, with many ambitions still to fulfil.
In addition to the two winners, the list of nominees for the 2011 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Award included:
Dee Caffari (GBR) - Record Breaking Round The World Yachtswoman
Sarah-Quita Offringa (ARU) - Double Professional Windsurfing Association World Champion
Alexandra Rickham (GBR) - ISAF Sailing World Cup Champion and IFDS World Champion
Ben Ainslie (GBR) - Match Racing World Champion & ISAF Sailing World Cup Champion
Lorenzo Bressani (ITA) - Melges 24 and 32 World Champion
Rob Douglas (USA) - Outright World Speed Record Holder
Nathan Outteridge (AUS) - International Moth World Champion and 49er Champion
Due to their very active lives on the water, a number of nominees, in addition to Martínez and Fernández, were unable to attend the Awards, including Ben Ainslie, Nathan Outteridge and Alexandra Rickham. Those present at the ceremony, reflected on their successful achievements and pride in being nominated.
Outright world speed record holder Rob Douglas (USA) said, "Looking back today [at his successful record-breaking attempt] it is still very emotional. It is probably one of the biggest moments of my life. In terms of the level of stress it is like taking a car travelling 65 miles per hour and stepping out the door when going down the highway!"
An enthusiastic Professional Windsurfer Association World Champion Women's Freestyle and World Champion Women's Slalom, Sarah-Quita Offringa (ARU) commented, "I love windsurfing a lot. It was pretty special when I read I was nominated but then I arrived here and began feeling nervous, it is such a great feeling to be recognised for your achievements."
Dee Caffari, the first woman to sail around the world non-stop three times, added, "I love being out on the ocean. Sailing with somebody else [double-handed at the Barcelona World Race] can be very heightened emotionally as you don't normally spend that intense amount of time with another person. It is quite a test having that other person there for three months non-stop but we really enjoyed it."
Meanwhile, Melges 24 and 32 champion Lorenzo Bressani said, "I am an instinctive sailor who prefers strong conditions. I enjoy both being a tactician and steering the boat."
ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards
The ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards have been held every year since 1994 and past winners include Peter Blake (NZL), Ellen MacArthur (GBR), Robert Scheidt (BRA), Ben Ainslie (GBR) and Russell Coutts (SUI). In 2010 the Awards were presented to Tom Slingsby (AUS) and Blanca Manchón (ESP).
The next edition of the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards will be held in Dun Laoghaire, Republic of Ireland in November 2012.