Santiago Lange made headlines across the world at the 2016 Rio Olympics, when he and his sailing partner, Cecilia Carranza Saroli, clinched the gold medal in the Nacra 17 mixed class – by just one point.
Not a bad effort for a 54-year-old man who had part of his left lung removed just 11 months earlier, making him the first Olympian to win gold after surviving lung cancer.
Four-times World Champion, ‘Santi’ first competed in the Olympics in 1988. He took bronze in the Tornado class at both the 2004 and 2008 Games. The 2016 Games were his sixth; and finally, he achieved his golden dream.
Yacht racing runs in his blood – his father competed at the 1952 Games, and his sons Yago and Klaus are also Olympic sailors. After the winning race, they both swam out to meet his boat, clambering aboard to celebrate with their father – who was clearly touched by their gesture.
He said, “We [Argentina] don’t tend to win as many medals as Great Britain, so for us, it has been a very big story – not just because of my cancer but probably also because of my age; and of course, because I was with my sons.
“It was all quite emotional. I feel I am receiving a lot of love from everyone – and especially from people who have gone through the same illness or who are going through it now.
“I am a privileged man, to know that life is giving me this opportunity to help people, maybe just by bringing a smile to someone’s face, or helping to inspire someone – I am really happy about that and enjoying it a lot.”
“I was lucky – my cancer was found early. There was a nodule in the middle of the lung, really close to the bronchial tube, so they couldn’t take tissue samples. For me, the most frightening thing was that, to confirm the diagnosis, the doctors needed to take out part of the lung. That was something I had to get used to.Santiago Lange
“The doctors were recommending that I should have surgery; it took me six months to come to terms with that. I had surgery in Spain, with really good doctors. It was confirmed that it was lung cancer, so it was a good decision! Medicine today is incredible.
“Incredibly, five days after the operation I was home and walking up to five kilometres, and then I started cycling too. Within a month, I was back sailing – amazing.”
Gold – at last!
“It was, of course, a dream come true. The two bronze medals were wonderful, but I always wanted to hear my national anthem and see our flag raised to the top position – and now that has happened!
“There are a lot of messages we can take from this – not just for those of us with lung cancer, but for everyone – to keep pushing to achieve your dreams, to keep working with determination.”
“My main focus now is on finding ways to spread the word about lung cancer, to help alert people to its signs and symptoms. I really want to put my energy into that. I hope that what we have achieved with our team will be of some help to everyone touched by lung cancer.”