He’s an American of Polish descent but it’s in Germany that perhaps John Kostecki’s biggest influence is felt. His win on board the German owned illbruck during the 2001-2002 Volvo Ocean Race led to a sailing boom in Germany, and he was given a hero’s welcome by thousands of fans whoawaitedhis arrival into Kiel at the end of the final leg from Gothenburg.
Kostecki’s second outing in the race – he was previously a tactician on board EF Language in 1997-98 – marked the culmination of what was a hugely professional and meticulously planned campaign, brilliantly executed. Volvo was attracted to the race not only because of its track record of adventure and triumph over adversity but also by this growing professionalism and innovation, which Kostecki’s strategy perfectly illustrated. His campaign involved three and a half years of training, an elaborate sail programme and an investment of more than $20 million.
“He's a very gifted natural sailor, and he's relentless,” the sailing author and commentator Gary Jobson has said. Victory did not come easily however – the boat very nearly sank on leg 2 when the entire forward compartment flooded – and with just three legs to go the race was still in the balance, with ASSA ABLOY the main threat.
During the 7th leg across the Atlantic between Baltimore and La Rochelle, the team set a new 24-hour distance record of 484 nautical miles which led to a commanding win for illbruck, but overall victory still hung in the balance until the last leg, where they placed second.
“This is incredible, unbelievable – a lot better than anyone expected,” he said at the finish in Kiel. “I have an Olympic medal but for sure this is the best.”
Kostecki started his sailing career in the windy and tide-swept waters of San Francisco Bay, beginning at age seven. He was competing the following year. By the time he won silver medal at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 he’d already clocked two world championship wins and also that year he won the J/24 World Championships, the Soling Class World Championships and was named United States Rolex Yachtsman of the Year (he was named a second time in 2002).
Altogether he’s won ten world champion titles in different sailing classes. He’s also taken part in multiple America’s Cup campaigns and was tactician on board the winning BMW Oracle Racing in 2010.
“Sailing is my life,” Kostecki has said. “I have been sailing ever since I can remember as a child. I love the sport, the people involved and how it has evolved over the years.”