The 2012 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards were presented to Ben Ainslie, 35, of Great Britain and Lijia Xu, 25, of China yesterday at the Mansion House in Dublin, Ireland. The award, which recognizes achievements from September 2011 to August of 2012, is considered among the highest honors for sailors.
ISAF and Rolex waited to announce the winners until the ceremony Tuesday, keeping the suspense high for nominees and guests. Ainslie and Xu were two of nine closely contested candidates, five male and four female, nominated by the public for the award. More than 130 Member National Authorities of ISAF cast their votes to decide the winners: Ainslie, a four-time Olympic Gold medalist, and Xu, the first Chinese sailor to win Olympic Gold in a dinghy.
“Winning the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year award is a huge honor, especially for everyone who has helped me,” Ainslie said.
This was actually Ainslie’s fourth time winning the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Award. He has been at the top of the sport for the last 20 years, claiming nine European titles and 10 world championships. While Ainslie has had a remarkable career, he remains modest about his achievements.
“There are a lot of fantastic sailors out there,” Ainslie said. “I am very fortunate to have had the support to do what I have.”
Modesty was also apparent in female recipient Xu.
“I didn’t expect to be the winner,” said Xu. “It is an honor to be named the ISAF World Sailor of the Year and become the first sailor from China to receive this award.”
Xu made history in August when she became the first Chinese, and first Asian, to win an Olympic Gold medal in a dinghy. Xu’s victory at the 2012 Olympic Games came after a year of strong performances with three victorious ISAF Sailing World Cup regattas and a silver medal at the Laser World Championships.
Xu overcame hearing and sight problems and even a tumor in her leg throughout her young career to stick with the sport she said offers her opportunity.
“Sailing leads me to a path to a better life, a life full of vitality, excitement and joyful experiences,” Xu said.
Both sailors were presented with a Rolex timepiece and an ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year trophy.
For further information on ISAF Rolex Sailor of the Year Awards visit: sailing.org/worldsailor
Photo courtesy of ISAF