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Band of brothers: Iker and Xabi, from Olympics to Volvo Ocean Race

Xabi Fernandez and Iker Martinez for Team Telefónica © Crapi
Xabi Fernandez and Iker Martinez for Team Telefónica © Crapi

Team Telefónica are quickly establishing themselves as the team to beat in this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race with three consecutive wins in four races – and at the heart is the relationship between skipper Iker Martínez and his long-term sailing partner Xabi Fernande

The pair have sailed side by side for 12 years– and such is their bond on the water they have reached a higher plain of communication, almost surpassing the need to speak.

“All in all, Iker and Xabi don’t really need to talk,” observes Neal McDonald, Telefónica watch captain and one of the most experienced Volvo Ocean Race sailors in the world.

“It’s amazing: they walk by each other and that’s it. It’s phenomenal.”

Martínez, 34, and Fernández, 35, are Spain’s most successful ever sailors and in recognition of their achievements were recently crowned ISAF Rolex World Sailors of the Year.

It’s no wonder then that the pair were top of the list to head up Team Telefónica’s third attempt at winning the Volvo Ocean Race.

“[The relationship] is something very special,” Martínez told volvooceanrace.com. “We basically learned how to sail, and to race, together.

“We did this with the same coach, sailing on the same boat and in the same place. We are very good friends too.”

Fernández added: “One of the good things is that we understand each other very well and in the boat, I try to transmit a little bit what he really wants. I guess it’s a good thing, an extra.

“I can help the team to understand Iker’s message – which is basically ‘push, push, push’.”

From humble beginnings, the duo went on to win Olympic gold medals in Athens in 2004 in the 49er dinghy class before switching disciplines to compete in the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race with movistar.

In 2008 they returned to 49ers winning silver in Beijing before signing up for Team Telefónica’s Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09 campaign, which they finished in third.

In 2010 they were named 49er world champions, and shortly after jumped onto the IMOCA Open 60 Mapfre for the doublehanded Barcelona World Race, claiming second, a minor interruption to their plans to compete in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race.

Both Martínez and Fernández put their success as a sailing couple down to their unfaltering work ethic.

“What makes the difference is Xabi’s ability to work,” Martínez said. “He’s someone who can work a lot for a very long time. That’s impressive.

“When things become difficult, when it’s cold and tough, Xabi can work at 100 per cent. Everybody isn’t like that. His resistance, his endurance.”

“With Iker, it’s difficult to take time off,” adds Fernández with a wry smile.

For now their attention is focused solely on glory in the Volvo Ocean Race. But with the race coming to an end in early July 2012, the pair have not written off a return to the Olympic 49er class for the London Games which start just weeks after.

“Are we going to be in the Olympics in Weymouth?” Martínez ponders. “A lot of people are asking us that. We don’t know. Xabi and I always told the Spanish Sailing Federation that if they ask us to go, we would go.”


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