The highly anticipated announcement of the recipients of the ISAF Rolex
World Sailor of the Year Awards was made last night, Tuesday 8 November, in
a ceremony in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The winners, selected from an impressive and star-studded gathering of
nominees, were Anna Tunnicliffe (USA), who claimed the female award for the
second time, and the two-man crew of Iker Martínez and Xabier
Fernández (ESP), awarded the male prize.
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
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
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
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.
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Photography: Michael Bradley
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