Torben Grael and Anna Tunnicliffe named Sailors of the Year

Torben Grael and Anna Tunnicliffe joined the sailing world's most prestigious list of winners last night, 10 November, as they were named winners of the 2009 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards at a spectacular ceremony held in Busan, South Korea.

Sailors, officials and special guests from all over the world gather every November for the International Sailing Federation's (ISAF) Annual Conference and the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards.

The Awards are recognized as the highest honour a sailor can receive in recognition of his/her outstanding achievements and this year's official award ceremony took place last night, 10 November, in Busan, South Korea at the Busan Yacht Club in Haeundae-gu. Although there were many exceptional sailors present at the award ceremony, only two of the five male and four female nominees could walk away with the prestigious ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year title. The winners of this esteemed award for 2009 are Torben Grael (BRA) and Anna Tunnicliffe (USA).

Success has seemed to follow Torben Grael throughout the many years of his sailing career. Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and nicknamed “Turbine” for his nautical achievements, Torben Grael has won five Olympic medals, more than any other sailor in history, and can claim multiple world championship titles together with a Louis Vuitton Cup (Luna Rossa, 2000). His most recent achievement in the 2008-2009 Volvo Ocean Race, where he skippered Ericsson 4 to spectacular victory, is the one for which he was recognised at last night's ceremony. It was only his second Volvo Ocean Race, yet Grael and his team were first home on five legs, finishing on the podium eight times out of ten total legs in the race. The Ericsson 4 team was also in the top three for all seven offshore scoring gates and on the podium for three of the seven in-port races, accruing a final 84% (114.5 points) of the total points available.

As if that were not enough, Ericsson 4 additionally entered the record books on 29 October after setting the 24-hour Monohull World Record, sailing a phenomenal 596.6nm, an average speed of 24.85 knots, during the race. After nine months and nearly 40,000 nautical miles of racing, Ericsson 4 was the undisputed winner of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-2009 and the team crossed the finish line in St Petersburg with an unbeatable nine-point lead.

When asked how difficult it was to maintain his team's constant performance, Grael said, “There is no single reason why we were successful; I would say it was a combination of things. I think keeping the team together was one of the keys to our victory. We started in very good shape and were very well prepared. We had time, a good boat, a good sponsor. going into it I think we had a good chance. After the first two legs we just tried to keep on top of the board and get the most points we could in case the others made mistakes. I think it was a good strategy. We pushed when we had to and we were conservative when we thought it was important. When you see the results, I think we could have pushed harder, but that would not have made any difference on our end position, of which we are very proud. I'm very happy with it.”

Grael may have done a spectacular job of keeping his team on top as they raced around the world, but his achievements in the 2008-2009 nomination period are in no way limited to the Volvo Ocean Race. Almost immediately after finishing the VOR, Grael was found competing at Rolex Ilhabela Sailing Week, finishing the week second overall, a feat he matched a few weeks later, as tactician on Luna Rossa, at Cowes Week and the legendary Rolex Fastnet Race.

“It was a very special year for me,” said Grael, who has been nominated for the World Sailor Award five times in his career, yet who won for the first time last night. “Winning the Rolex World Sailor of the Year is a fantastic achievement. I'm proud not only of what I have achieved, but also what my kids have achieved, so I can honestly say it's been a great year. This is a very difficult award to win as sailing is so varied and there are many good people out there, this year included, so I'm very happy.”

49-year old Torben Grael has shown time and time again that he is capable of taking on a challenge and has kept his experiences well-rounded by mastering Olympic, Offshore and Match Race sailing. He is capable of consistent performance, a “must” in just about any type of racing, regardless of the circumstances.

When asked what would be three highlights from his long career, Torben Grael laughed and said, “That's not easy! However, winning my Olympic gold medals, the Louis Vuitton Cup and now the Volvo. I would say these are pretty good achievements.”

Outside of his racing, Torben Grael has worked with brothers Lars and Axel Grael to form the Instituto Rumo Náutico, known in Brazil as “The Grael Project.” The programme offers underprivileged children social and educational opportunities through nautical experiences, while expanding access to sailing, rowing and canoeing, and promoting maritime culture.

When asked about his future plans, Grael said, “I suppose it just depends on what kinds of opportunities I have. That's the good thing about sailing: there is just so much happening. There will always be something you have not done that would be fun to do. My immediate plans include the Star Worlds in Rio de Janeiro. I've been sailing the Star for so long, there is just no way I can miss that event, and then we'll see what comes after that.”

All in all, Torben Grael has proven himself more than worthy of the prestigious title of ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year 2009, and one can surely expect great things to come as Grael continues to make history.

But Grael was not the only sailor who left last night's ceremony with a silver World Sailor Trophy and a prestigious Rolex timepiece. Anna Tunnicliffe was named the female winner of this prestigious award, and she is no stranger to success herself. In the past twelve months, Anna Tunnicliffe has set her sights on a variety of challenges across a range of boats and disciplines. Tunnicliffe won the gold medal for the USA in the Laser Radial at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the first US Women's Olympic sailing medal in 20 years, and has kept herself busy ever since, sailing not only the one-person Laser Radial, but also a Snipe alongside her Match Racing commitments.

Tunnicliffe was born in Doncaster, England, but has lived in the United States since she was twelve. She began sailing at a young age and keeps herself busy with constant training and competing in a variety of classes. “I love sailing different classes,” said Tunnicliffe, during her interview at last night's Awards Ceremony. “The two disciplines are quite different. I really like sailing by myself and it's a physical game in the Laser, all about putting yourself in the right position and working it as hard as you can. When you're with a team, it's still about working as hard as you can, but together with everybody. At first it was a bit hard, because I have to relinquish some of what I'm used to doing and give it to my team mates so I can get the boat going fast. But sailing with a team gives you someone to talk to, and we decide together where to go, so it's a bit more relaxing because you are not out there making all the decisions by yourself,” Tunnicliffe sai d with a smile.

“I would say that one of my personal highlights of the year was being able to compete quite successfully in two disciplines: Match Racing and Laser sailing. I'm really excited to see where it goes next year.”

Anna Tunnicliffe says that Match Racing is alluring to her “because of the intense pressure before, during and after the start, pitching one's own tactics and wit against one other boat, rather than a fleet, and also because of working with a team on a much larger boat than the Laser Radial.” Yet she is the first to admit that sailing in many classes requires one to hone a different set of skills each time, and that diversity across many disciplines will vastly improve one's ability and knowledge in all aspects of sailing.

That ability to switch effectively may very well be the key to the many successes Tunnicliffe accumulated during the past year, which led to her nomination and, ultimately, her recognition at the Awards. Following the 2008 Olympic Games she pocketed 1st at the US Women's Match Racing Championship in September and, that same month, came in 2nd at the Snipe Women's World Championship in Roquetas al Mar, Spain. Switching back to Match Racing, she took home another 1st at the ISAF Nations Cup Regional Finals (N America & Caribbean) in November, and then just one month later picked up the gold at the first event of the inaugural ISAF Sailing World Cup series, the Sail Melbourne International Regatta in the Laser Radial. At the end of that phenomenal year, in light of her overwhelming determination and resulting achievements, Anna Tunnicliffe was unanimously named US Sailing's 2008 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year.

In January 2009 she came in 1st at the next World Cup event, the Rolex Miami OCR and then took home the top position one month later at the Women's Laser Radial North American Championship. In February Tunnicliffe also won the silver medal at the Laser Midwinters East and was then back on the match racing scene in March, winning bronze at the ISAF Nations Cup Grand Final in Porte Alegre, Brazil before taking home the top position in the NYYC Women's Match Racing Regatta.

Once again back in the Laser Radial, Tunnicliffe set her sights on continuing her success in the inaugural ISAF Sailing World Cup. A win at the Semaine Olympique Française in Hyères, France, meant that Tunnicliffe had pocketed gold three times in the first four events of the seven event series. A bronze in Kiel, Germany (Kieler Woche), and no result lower than sixth throughout, gave Tunnicliffe an unassailable lead in the overall standings, guaranteeing her the crown in the ISAF Sailing World Cup in Laser Radial.

“I think the key to my success may be that I come from a competitive family,” said Tunnicliffe. “Not only in sailing, we just have a strong competitive drive so I always want to do better, I always want to learn. It's not always about winning, it's about learning and having fun while you're doing it.”

Anna Tunnicliffe was recognized last night for her achievements made during the qualifying period (1 September 2008 to 31 August 2009), but like Grael, she shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. Just last month she won the Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championship in Rochester, NY, USA, in addition to being runner-up at the Rolex Osprey Cup (Grade 1 Match event) in St. Petersburg, FL, USA.

“It's such an honour to even be nominated,” said Tunnicliffe, “but have them read your name out is just incredible. It makes all that hard work you've put in all your life worth it. Last year was hard and there were times when I wanted to take a break, but I really love the sport and I really love what I do, and to be awarded with this honour is just fantastic.”

So what's next? Anna Tunnicliffe is very clear: “London Olympic Games 2012,” she said, confirming that once again that she is going for the gold, but this time in Match Racing. With a clearly defined mission, and well on her way to future success, Anna Tunnicliffe has worked incredibly hard to achieve as much as she has, a success acknowledged by the international sailing world last night as she became the female ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year 2009.

HRH Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, an enthusiastic sailor and regular on the Farr 40 circuit, announced the winners of this year's Awards. The Crown Prince and Lionel Schurch of Rolex SA presented each winner with a Rolex Yacht-Master timepiece and the World Sailor Trophy – a marble sphere crowned by five silver spinnakers that represent the world and its continents.

In addition to the two winners, the well-rounded list of nominees for the 2009 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year award also included:

Sam Davies (GBR)
Hilary Lister (GBR)
Blanca Manchón (ESP)

Pascal Bidégorry (FRA)
Michel Desjoyeaux (FRA)
Paul Goodison (GBR)
Nathan Outteridge (AUS)

Five of the nine nominees were present last night for the Award Ceremony at the Busan Yacht Club in Haeundae-gu. Sam Davies and Mich Desjoyeaux are currently competing in the Transat Jacques Vabre, whilst Pascal Bidégorry was on standby for a Jules Verne record attempt. Blanca Manchón was unwell and unable to make the trip to Korea. No one knew ahead of time who the winners would be, making for a night of justified anticipation. All nominees present were introduced to the audience during the course of the evening, adding to the suspense. Faced with so many remarkable stories of commitment and achievement, no one could be sure who had won until the names were drawn from the sealed envelopes.

Approximately 400 international guests attended the Awards Ceremony, which was hosted by Danish sailor Jesper Bank, a triple Olympic medallist including bronze in 1988 here when Busan hosted the sailing competition of the Seoul Olympic Games. Bank is also a winner of the ISAF Match Racing World Championship and himself a past nominee for the World Sailor Award. All who attended last night's ceremony felt honoured to be in the company of so many talented sailors.

“This is the one night of the year when we can marvel, celebrate and award the heroes of our sport,” said Jesper Bank of the ceremony. “We have a proud sailing heritage and a strong sailing future.” All should be proud of their accomplishments over the past year, and all look forward to the next edition of the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards, which will be in Athens in 2010.


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