When Lionel Messi met Santiago Lange
54 years, ten months and 25 days. That’s how old Santiago Lange was when he won his first Olympic gold medal in the summer of 2016. It meant that the Argentinian was not only the oldest participant in the Games, but also one of the oldest gold medal winners ever. But the thing that really stole the headlines was the fact that this win came just a year after having most of one lung removed following a cancer diagnosis.
The gold medal in the Nacra 17 class was the icing on a remarkable career for Lange that has spanned 30 years, four world championship titles and two bronze medals in the Tornado class. “Sailing with Santi is like playing football with Messi,” said Cecilia Carranza Saroli, his sailing partner.
So what happens when the Messi of sailing meets the real Messi and his Barcelona and Argentina team-mate Javier Mascherano? Carry on reading to find out.
A meeting of legends
“It was something very special and really nice,” said Lange about meeting the five-time World Footballer of the Year and fellow countryman Javier Mascherano. But what impressed Lange the most was what they do off the pitch.
“Above all I value the human part of people above their success, their position and their abilities. And Messi just like Javier Mascherano were very simple, very friendly and very much speaking equal to equal. They showed that who you are as a person is more important than who you are as an athlete.”
His recent invitation to the club dates back to his gold-winning performance last August, which led both Messi and Mascherano to tweet their congratulations on social media.
A chance conversation with a friend with links to the Spanish club then opened the way for his training ground visit, followed by spending a game in the presidential box and another meeting with the players after their latest victory.
“I sent an email asking and that was it,” says Lange of the story behind his Nou Camp visit. “The following day I received a very nice invitation from FC Barcelona asking me to watch a game in the presidential box and spend a little bit of time with Leo and Masche.
In conversation, the players asked about his decision to sail onto the next Olympics in 2020, by which stage he will be edging ever closer to his 60th birthday. In turn, Messi and Mascherano talked of what would likely be their last shot at World Cup glory in 2018.
While their sporting achievements are either ends of the spectrum, Lange admits they have a common goal. “They live for Argentina,” he says. “They would give anything to win a World Cup for Argentina and I realise that they really have this under their skin and their heart. It was good to hear that.”
FC Barcelona in the blood
Lange makes no secret of the fact he’s a Barcelona fan. He has a home in the city, where he has been spending most of his time since 1991, and has been in rapture to the city’s iconic football side. Lange is the first to admit that this recent visit was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to the extent that “I never wanted the game to end. It was a wonderful show, just like seeing a rock band, and you want another song at the end, you just don’t want it to end.”
While at the club, Lange was like a sponge, lapping up every piece of information he could from the scientific approach to every training session, to the players’ professionalism and their humble approach in everything they do.
“For me, all cross-discipline work is fascinating because you learn a lot and it’s really interesting to see how many factors are useful in one sport like another.”
Nothing but admiration
But was their anything Messi and co could learn from him? Not so, apparently: “I’m very humble here. I don’t feel suited to give them any sort of advice, absolutely not.”
Their lives, though, he insists are poles apart: “One of the many things that I admire with the players is what they have to live and go through. They’re so popular and anything they do has a media impact.
“That must be difficult. Obviously it’s like an oceanic difference between them and us. We’re used to training without a stadium and they’re on the field where 80,000 people sing their names. These differences are too great to be analysed.
But he is also full of praise for the less-heralded Mascherano, who himself paid tribute to Lange for his own fighting spirit during the Games.
“There are some elite athletes that I admire like Nadal or Federer and Masch is one of them. More importantly because of his fighting spirit and behaviour. If there is a Barca player that illustrates what fighting is it’s Mascherano. Saying these words means a lot.”