Deceased , Modern




1930 - 2018

A bronze medalist in the Dragon Class at the 1972 Olympics and a Soling National Champion at age 72, Donald Cohan is a sailor who defied the odds of the sailing world on many fronts.

He was the first Jewish athlete to win an Olympic medal in yachting for the United States -and possibly in the world. In the 1972 Munich Olympics, he was competing during the Munich Massacre, when terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes. All Jewish athletes were warned to leave but Cohan chose to stay. Not only did he medal at those Olympics but he did so with only five years of racing under his belt.

While a cruiser for many years, he did not actively start racing until his late 30s. Aspiring to compete at the highest levels, at age 42, with crew Charles Horter and John Marshall, he won the bronze medal at the 1972 Olympics – one of the oldest competitors to win a yachting medal for the U.S. at the Olympics. After the Olympics, he had a string of championship wins in several different classes including, among others, the Soling, the Flying Dutchman and the Tempest. Don has also owned and raced an eight-metre (on which he honeymooned), six-metre, NY 30, and a 40-foot Luders Sloop.

Decades later, after several bouts with cancer, with the attendant chemotherapy and radiation, again defying the odds, he won the 2002 U.S. Soling Championship at the age of 72, held in a windy Houston, Texas. A several-time member of the U.S. Sailing Team – the last time at age 68 – he also represented the U.S. approximately 14 times in Olympic Class World Championships and several times was the top amateur.

Dennis Conner has called Cohan a “very competitive, respected sailor who runs a good, clean campaign.” According to Buddy Melges, Cohan’s contributions to our sport “go far beyond his finishes at regattas,” and Ed Baird speaks to not only Cohan’s on-the-water excellence, but “his mentorship and leadership in helping others to learn sailing and to work for the betterment of our sport.” Indeed, this was Donald’s passion. While winning regattas was fun, it was the camaraderie, the mentoring, and the relationships that inspired him the most. He was always offering assistance. In the 1970s, Donald worked with Andy Kostinecki to unite disparate groups of committees into what became USYRU (later US Sailing). For eight years, he was a very active member of the U.S. Olympic Sailing Committee and the U.S. Sailing One-Design Committee and he was a 50-year active board member of the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club. At the age of 85, Don bought an Etchells and successfully raced it that summer in Maine.

A Partial List of Accomplishments and Honors

Dragon Class
Year(s) Place Event

  • 1972 Bronze Medal Olympics, skipper, Munich, Germany
  • 1972 1st Dragon Olympic Trials – US Dragon Nationals
  • 1971 3rd Dragon World Championships, Hobart, Australia
  • 1971 1st Kiel Week, German Pre-Olympic Regatta

Soling Class
Year(s) Place Event

  • 2002 1st at age 72 Soling U. S. National Championships
  • 2001 2nd at age 71 Atlantic Coast Championship
  • 1982 2nd Soling Atlantic Coast Championship (ACCs)
  • 1982, 1984-1988, 1994-1997 1st (9 times) Soling Chesapeake Bay Championship
  • 1981 1st Soling Pacific Coast Championship
  • 1970 2nd Soling Great Lakes Championship
  • 1970, 1971, 1984-1990, 1993-1997 1st (14 times) Soling Atlantic Coast Championship
  • 1970 1st Soling Southern Championship

Other One Design and Keelboat Accomplishments
Year(s) Place Event

  • 2008 1st Nantucket Opera House Cup “Hurricane Feeder Race”
  • 2008 Perform. Award Nantucket Opera House
  • 2007 1st Nantucket Opera House Cup (Classic Division)
  • 2007 1st Martha’s Vineyard Cup
  • 2006 2nd New England Sonar Championship at the age of 76 never having been in a Sonar

Honors and Volunteer Accomplishments

  • 1970s worked with Andy Kostinecki to help create USYRU (now US Sailing)
  • Active member of the U.S. Olympic Sailing Committee for eight years
  • 1971, 2002 Thomas Jackson Award, awarded annually by Vineyard Haven Yacht Club for highest degree of sportsmanship
  • Member of US Sailing One-Design Committee for several years
  • 1980 Selected as sole representative for U.S. Olympic Sailing at a conference with President Jimmy Carter, relating to the decision not to participate in the 1980 Olympics
  • Member of the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame
  • Recipient, Senatorial Medal of Freedom
  • One of only five people given the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club’s Outstanding Achievement Honor in the Club’s 75 year history
  • Was the topic of a television documentary on CNBC, titled Sailing Through Adversity

Additional References for Donald S. Cohan

Following are two articles that were written about Donald Cohan – one from the Philadelphia Inquirer and one from the Hartford Courant.  In the first one, Bob Ford does a nice job of capturing Cohan’s spirit of perseverance and the way in which sailing has played such a large part of Donald’s life in the past four decades. In the second article, June Sandra Neal recounts, in Cohan’s own words, the incredibly traumatic 1972 Munich Olympics, at which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually killed, along with a German police officer, by a terrorist group.

Cohan article An Old Yachtsman with New Resolve

Cohan article Munich Olympics

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