International sailors, officials and special guests gather every November for the International Sailing Federation’s (ISAF) Annual Conference and for the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards. The Awards are recognized as the highest honour a sailor can receive and recognise outstanding achievement during the preceding twelve-month period. This year’s ceremony took place last night, 9 November, at the Zappeion in Athens, Greece and the winners of this esteemed award for 2010 are Blanca Manchón (ESP) and Tom Slingsby (AUS).
No stranger to the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards, having already been nominated three times in her career, Blanca Manchón was overjoyed to have finished her evening with the World Sailor Trophy clutched firmly in her grasp. “This is fantastic! I have my family and friends here with me tonight and we were hoping that this would be the night. I was up against so many amazing women here so I am very moved to have won this award.” Over the past year and more, this Windsurfing World Champion and double World Cup winner has been on a winning streak that has left others swimming in her wake.
Born in Spain in 1987, Manchón has been on the water for almost as long as she remembers, starting out sailing in the Optimist class at only seven years old. She began windsurfing at nine and by age ten she was already participating in her first World Championship, joining the Junior class despite her unusually young age. Manchón had her first international podium at the age of 12, in 1999, when she won a silver medal at a competition in France. In 2004, she became the first junior to represent Spain in the Olympic Games, in Athens. She had just turned 17 and had placed 7th in the Mistral World Championship in Cesmi, Izmir, Turkey, proving herself as a force with which to be reckoned. Manchón subsequently finished 8th in the Athens Olympic Games in the Mistral class.
Today Manchón is still one of the busiest sailors on the circuit. This talented, young windsurfer sailed at six of the 2009-2010 ISAF Sailing World Cup regattas and finished on the podium at five of them. Second in Miami was followed by a silver in Hyères. She then claimed her first gold of the series at the Delta Lloyd Regatta before finishing both Kieler Woche and Skandia Sail for Gold with the silver medal. The impressive consistency of Manchón secured her a second consecutive ISAF Sailing World Cup win and she has been ranked 1st in the ISAF World Rankings since 21 September 2010. Her sights are currently fixed on the 2012 Olympic Games. “My goal is to win gold at the Olympic Games, this would truly be a dream come true for me,” said Manchón at last night’s ceremony. “No Spanish sailor has ever won an Olympic windsurfing medal so I am going to do my best, we will have to see in 2012. I am still very young and I have many dreams, I want to do so many things. This will not be the last you hear of me and, who knows, I hope I will be seeing you again some day here again at these Awards!”
2010 marks the first time an Australian has won the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Award, and although unable to attend the Award’s ceremony in person, due to electrical storms grounding flights out of Sydney, Tom accepted his prize live over the phone, with understandable enthusiasm, “wow, thank you! Winning this award is a great honour. The sailing greats have been nominated for and won this award before, I don’t feel like I’m up there with those guys and was thrilled just to be nominated in the first place.” Following the ceremony Slingsby added, “I remember sitting on the rocks on Sydney Harbour about 10 years ago watching two greats, Ben Ainslie and Robert Scheidt – two former winners of this award – do battle at the Sydney Olympic Games. I remember that was the moment I realized this was really what I wanted to do and it’s a great honour to have my name said in the same breath as people like that, people I’ve looked up to.”
Born in 1984, Slingsby hails from the Central Coast of New South Wales. Like many Sydneysiders, Slingsby grew up with nautical influence in his life from a young age, and remembers doing his first competitive sailing at eight years old. While tempted by a potential career in tennis, he decided at 15 that sailing was his preferred sport and by the 2004 -2005 season, Slingsby had become a regular on the podium. With his class win at the Semaine Olympique Francaise in Hyères, he set himself off on a series of wins that would put him among the top three favourites for that year’s Worlds in Fortaleza, Brazil.
This year, as if he was not busy enough, Slingsby decided to try his hand at a different type of action and again met with success. Sailing as tactician on the Farr 40 Transfusion, Slingsby helped guide the team the Australian national title in March and then to second overall at the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds in the Dominican Republic in April. He then returned to the Laser and the ISAF Sailing World Cup circuit, sailing three of the 2009-10 regattas and winning all of them: Delta Lloyd, Kieler Woche and Skandia Sail for Gold. In between his gold medals in the Laser, Slingsby travelled to Ireland for the Etchells Worlds with a team led by former America’s Cup skipper John Bertrand and including fellow Beijing Olympian Andrew Palfrey. The team took charge from the second day of racing and with five wins in the nine-race series, they were able to sit out the final race and still take the crown as the 2010 World Champions.
The final fling for Slingsby in 2010 was back in the Laser at the Worlds on Hayling Island, UK, and once again the Australian dominated, claiming his third Laser world title with a 36-point margin over the silver medallist [read our article]. Yet Slingsby will not rest on his laurels. The London Olympics in 2012 are on the near horizon and atoning for the disappointment of 2008 is the goal. According to Slingsby, his recent successes have “been a great way to start my campaign off; now it is all about taking that momentum and to keep building.” In between, there is the possibility of a fourth Laser World title in 2011, when the event is part of the ISAF World Championships in Perth, Australia. Sydney will host the 2012 Etchells Worlds, about which Slingsby explains, “we were actually talking about it on the way in from the last day of the Worlds in Dublin. I had initially planned to get my own team together, but now I think I might sail with John and Andrew again!”
In addition to the two winners, the list of nominees for the 2010 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Award included:
Kristin Boese (GER) – Nine-time Kitesurf World Champion
Siripon Kaewduang-Ngam (THA) – Youth Olympic Games gold medallist
Lisa Westerhof & Lobke Berkhout (NED) – 470 World Champions
Antoine Albeau (FRA) – Professional Windsurfing Association & Formula World Champion
Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page (AUS) – 470 World Champions and World Cup winners
Lorenzo Bressani (ITA) – Melges 24 and 32 Champion
Franck Cammas (FRA) – Record-breaking offshore racer
Ed Wright (GBR) – Finn World Champion and double World Cup Winner
More informations: ISAF Rolex World Sailor website
Photo credit : Rolex / Jurt Arrigo / Daniel Forster