Established in 1961 by US SAILING and sponsored by Rolex Watch U.S.A. since 1980, the Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year Awards recognize outstanding on-the-water achievement in the calendar year just concluded. The winners will be honoured and presented with specially engraved Rolex timepieces at a February 25, 2005, luncheon at the New York Yacht Club in Manhattan.
Rolex Yachtsman of the Year - First-time winners of the Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Award, Paul FOERSTER and Kevin BURNHAM were recognized for their gold medal performance at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games in the 27-boat 470 Men's event. Foerster, a four-time Olympian, and Burnham, a three-time Olympian, had both medalled in the event before, although not together, and were already guaranteed a silver medal when the fireworks started during pre-race manoeuvres on the final day of their Olympic Regatta. Foerster and Burnham had decisively unseated Great Britain (GBR) from the top spot on the scoreboard in the penultimate race, and only two points separated the two teams heading into the showdown. The USA would need to finish no worse than two boats behind GBR no matter where they were on the course. 'It will be a good thing to watch,' Burnham stated before the final race, 'and it will show Paul's ability to match race, which most people don't know about.'
Finding Great Britain in a vulnerable position two minutes before the start, Foerster and Burnham trapped them into a tacking duel that saw the two boats cross the starting line well behind the rest of the fleet, much to the amazement or dismay, depending on allegiance of the massive spectator fleet. The ensuing match race was a flawless lesson in tactics by Foerster and Burnham. They covered their rivals around the course and across the finish line where otherwise dismal finishes of 22nd (USA) and 23rd (GBR) determined who stood on the center podium. When the finish horn confirmed their victory, Burnham unhooked his harness and back-flipped off the boat, leaving Foerster to singlehandedly douse the spinnaker and round up to retrieve him. It made for one of the most photographically memorable moments of the Athens Games.
'I am very honored to be selected with my teammate Kevin as the 2004 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year,' said Foerster. 'I have admired the accomplishments of the past winners and would like to thank all of Kevin's and my friends, family and coaches who made our accomplishments possible this past year.'
'It's just a great honor to have this recognition for our efforts at the Olympics,' added Burnham. 'To have our names grace the trophy with all the great sailors in the USA is really something.'
In three prior trips to the Olympic Games ('88, '92 and '00) Foerster, who turned 41 in November, had won two silver medals: in the Flying Dutchman ('92), and the 470 ('00). During the fall 2003 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Houston, he flew home to Dallas each night after racing to be with his wife, Carrie, and the couple's newborn son, Luke. As the Trials wound down, Foerster and Burnham were able to sit out the final three races of their series after a string of first-place finishes secured their trip to Greece. Both Carrie and Luke were on hand in Athens, along with numerous members of the Foerster family, to witness the gold-medal victory.
Burnham partnered with Foerster to sail the 470 in 2002, after both had taken a significant hiatus from the class. In only their second regatta as a team, they finished sixth out of 109 boats at the 2002 470 World Championships in Italy. That remarkable performance secured the USA its berth to the 2004 Olympic Regatta and set the sailing world abuzz.
Burnham has been a mainstay of the 470 Men's class since the mid-1980s when he was crewing for Morgan REESER. That successful partnership also started off notably with a win of the first regatta sailed as a team and was marked by milestones such as the gold medal won at the 1986 Goodwill Games in Russia. Injuries kept Burnham sidelined intermittently, and the pair missed the 1988 Olympic Team Trials and the 1990 world championships. The payoff came in 1992, however, when they won the Trials and went on to capture the silver in Barcelona. A disappointing return trip to the Games in 1996, where the duo finished eighth, and Reeser's subsequent retirement from the class left Burnham in the market for a new skipper.
Burnham, who turned 48 in December, was the oldest member of the USA's 2004 Olympic Sailing Team, and his name is already the correct answer to one Olympic trivia question: who was the oldest gold medallist of all USA athletes at the 2004 Olympic Games? Since returning from Athens he has moved into the ranks of professional sailors and has become a popular motivational speaker. Noting that he will sail a 470 as long as physically possible, Burnham hopes to compete in the next Olympics.
In recognition of the duo's achievement, they were nominated for the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards 2004.
Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year - Recognized for her second time as Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year (she first received the award in 1989), Jody SWANSON earned accolades for her win of the 2004 Lightning North American Championship held at the Buffalo Canoe Club in Ontario, Canada. Sailing the August event with crew Skip DIEBALL and Tom STARCK in conditions that ranged from drifting to 25+ knots, Swanson topped a fleet of 103 boats that included many notable sailors. Members of the selection panel remarked on 'her impressive win in a deep fleet' while noting that no sailor dominates this class year-after-year. 'The Lightning class is tough,' said one panellist. 'That was a big win.' Swanson's achievement also gained her membership in an elite sorority of women who have won open (co-ed) one-design championships.
The 39-year-old Swanson has been sailing the Lightning for over 20 years. In 1984 she was the Lightning Youth World Champion, an experience that may have influenced her in recruiting two young sailors Lauren JONES and Maddie WALDRON to crew for her in the 2004 Lightning Women's North Americans. Sailing their first regatta as a team, the three won that championship just days before Swanson added the Lightning North American Championship title to her impressive resume.
Swanson's sailing career has included Olympic campaigns in both the 470 Women's class and the Yngling. Highlights of her time in the 470 include a gold medal at the 1990 Goodwill Games held in Seattle, a silver medal at the 1995 Pan American Games, and victory in 1996 at the North American Championship. She has competed on the match racing circuit, also with notable success: as winner of both the 1994 International Women's Match Racing Championship and the 1995 Santa Maria Cup. Last October, Swanson added another win to her 2004 resume this time as a crew when she switched positions with long-time teammate Cory SERTL for the U.S. Women's Match Race Championship.
'I just love the sport and racing sailboats,' said Swanson. 'That is what keeps bringing me out there. Winning this award again is just as meaningful as the first time (1989) because it is such an honour. I was very honoured to be nominated, and to win among this talented group of women is such a thrill.'
For additional information on the awards, including accomplishments of the nominees on the shortlist for 2004, please visit www.ussailing.org/awards/rolex.
About Rolex Watch U.S.A.
Since Rolex Watch U.S.A. first presented timepieces to America's Cup defenders in 1958, the company has consistently recognized and encouraged excellence in every important arena of competitive sailing, including Olympic Games preparation, US SAILING championships, disabled sailing, and offshore, one-design and women's events.
About US SAILING
The United States Sailing Association (US SAILING) is the national governing body for sailing and sailboat racing. Headquartered in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, the organization's mission is to encourage participation and promote excellence in sailing and racing in the U.S. US SAILING offers training and education programs, supports a wide range of sailing organizations and communities, and provides administration and oversight of competitive sailing across the country, including the US Sailing Teams and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Teams. For more information, please visit www.ussailing.org.