(ATR) He is already in Tokyo, but arriving in the host city of the Games has never been so difficult for Santiago Lange, who participates for the seventh time in an Olympic event.
"The arrival at the airport was very complicated, extremely exhaustive, you have to fill out an application that you will then have to fill out every day to say if you feel well. The whole procedure at the airport lasted four hours, because they make you a control, of a control, of a control...", said the Argentine sailor, gold medalist in Rio 2016, to Around the Rings.
"You arrive tired and it's hard to go through all those controls, but we know that the Games are happening and that's the most important thing. We're in a bubble now, all in a hotel. We go from the hotel to the marina, totally isolated, as we already knew it would be. The conditions are very, very special. But I insist: for the Games to happen is, at this moment, very, very important".
Lange's Olympic history goes back to 1988. He was in Seoul, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and Rio de Janeiro. Bronze in 2004 and 2008, gold in 2016, the 59-year-old Argentinean has two passions that warm his soul: sailing and the Olympic world.
"These are the moments of nice emotions, you feel happy to be able to compete in something you worked so hard for. These are the nice nerves of having to make important decisions," Lange said during an interview with Around the Rings on his way to Japan, where the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games open a year late on the 23rd of this month.
These are special Games for him, and not only because he must defend the Nacra 17 category title won alongside Cecilia Carranza in August 2016 in the waters of Guanabara Bay. On the 23rd, along with Cecilia, 25 years younger, he will be the flag bearer who will lead the way for the Argentine delegation at the entrance to the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.
"Being the flag bearer shocked me, it killed me. I received tons of messages, I wanted to answer everyone, known and unknown, and I couldn't," he says frustrated. "I have great respect for all Argentine athletes, and to be for a little while the ambassador of all of them in a Games is very special. And it makes me very proud that we can do it together with Cecilia."
Lange and Carranza trained in Sicily and Barcelona together with the teams from Australia, United Kingdom and Austria, but in the midst of a world gone mad due to the covid-19 pandemic, they have not competed for more than a year: "There have been no tournaments since June 2020. That's why the feelings are totally different from the Rio 2016 preview, because we haven't measured ourselves against important rivals since February 2020. We only did training sessions."
Known for being meticulous to the extreme, Lange finds that Tokyo changes his outlook completely. He always approached the Games with a year's prior stay at the competition venue. This time it was impossible.
"At first I felt that this situation attacked the fundamental pillars of our methodology: arriving much earlier at the competition site, knowing the weather well, getting to know the place. All these things are not going to work, we don't have them, we will only be able to sail eight days before the Games. Hopefully the experience will help us.
Another big difference between Rio and Tokyo is the boat Lange and Carranza will use. "It's the same platform, but the boat flies over the sea, in that sense it's very different from Rio. It's different when it comes to sailing it. The opponents are also different. The Italians were not in Rio and have become very strong, the English team is another one and also very strong. The French are the same".
Will he win his fourth Olympic medal? Lange, who published a book about his life ("Wind") a few months ago, financed by his sponsor Red Bull, prefers to be cautious.
"I'm betting on making it to the Games among the five or six who are really favorites. There may be surprises, but those with a chance are very few. As the tournament progresses we will know where we stand. If we can take the risk to fight for the gold, we will do it. Today, in the situation we are in, it would be crazy to think about a medal".
The Argentinean is the father of four children, two of whom - Yao and Klaus - tried to qualify for Tokyo without success. Perhaps they will make it to Paris 2024, an event Lange wants to attend. It would be his eighth Games.
"I think it's a possibility. I'm not saying that after Tokyo I'm retiring. We have to see how we do in Tokyo, how good we are and how the structure is put together afterwards."
"I'm in a great moment in my relationship with my children. Klaus is going to be at the Games as coach of the Portuguese team, and Thiago is taking care of the oceans, global warming, he is an ambassador for the UN."
The sailor is aware of the great uncertainty posed by the Games, which will go ahead with a tangle of controls and certifications of all kinds to reduce the risk of contagions in a country that has only 15 percent of its population fully vaccinated.
"I was at the three meetings to present the manual. We are going to have to eat in our rooms, have a saliva test in the morning and another one in the afternoon, you will not be able to leave your circuit, you have to leave the Games after 48 hours... it is a very hard reality, it is going to be a really special Games. But I try not to focus on that, that's why I let my coaches read the manual carefully so I don't make any mistakes.
Lange is tough, extremely demanding when it comes to training and competing. Carranza, who, still in her twenties in 2016, had to deal with that personality in Rio, knows that.
"Our relationship has a very strong and very healthy, very good point," Lange assures. "We both have great determination and do our best for the team. And that always keeps us together. Neither one of us doubts that the other is doing the most. I'm super proud of my team, it's a ten."
"Yes, it's true, I'm super demanding. With Cecilia, with the whole team and with myself. That's hard for the whole team. The hours I demand to train, the rhythm, the demand to reduce mistakes to a minimum. The pace of our team is impressive, and that's not easy".
Being on the verge of turning 60, in September, is something that makes itself felt. "Physically, I'd say I'm similar, but I'm more tired to endure the week of competition. Ceci is very strong, very determined, with a lot of desire".
A surfer in his spare time, Lange celebrates the Olympic debut of the sport in Tokyo, promoted by another Argentinean, Fernando Aguerre, president of the International Surfing Association (ISA): "I think surfing is spectacular, I love surfing, it's a very beautiful sport. The fact that it is in the Games seems very logical to me".
And do the Tokyo Games seem logical to you when the pandemic has still not been overcome? Lange is pragmatic. And very Olympic. "Things are the way they are. We don't know what's going to happen to the world tomorrow. Today we have to adapt to what is there. Cancelling the Games would have been the easiest thing to do, but I'd rather they went ahead".
Written and reported by Sebastian Fest
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