by Tom Slingsby
Australia's Laser sailor Tom Slingsby was the gold medal favourite going into the 2008 Olympic regatta. He'd won the last two World Champions and was in winning form. But he had a shocker, finishing 22nd overall. Now Tom talks about what happened and the road ahead.
Tom Slingsby, head in hands, just metres from the finish line of race 2 in the Mens Laser
Slingsby comments ' Since I have returned from the Olympic Games in Beijing I have been asked one question over and over - 'What happened?' The simple answer is 'I don’t know'. If I knew, I would have changed something during the event. I will give you a rundown of my view of the Olympics and what it was like from my perspective.
After arriving in China from our team camp in Hong Kong, we were straight into the Olympic Sailing Village. I began training on 29th July which gave me plenty of time to practise in my allocated boat before my event began on the 12th August.
While I was training before the event started, I had already noticed I was struggling a little for boat speed in practice races. I was very surprised as in the lead-up events I had been very fast in light wind races and with my lighter weight (75-76 kg), why I was having problems?
Arthur and I began working on things to try to get my speed edge back but even now, a month later, I don’t know exactly what the problem was. So when day one of racing arrived, I knew deep down that I was going to have to sail the regatta of my life to keep up with the fast guys.
Basically, the long and short of the regatta was I did not sail well with the boat speed problem. This meant I could not hold lanes, which meant I could not go where I wanted to go, which meant I was forced to take risks, which meant not only was I slow, but I was sailing low percentage strategies.
I finished the event in 22nd place with a best race of an 11th. In the last 33 lead up races prior to the Olympics, I had been top five in 30 races, with a worst result of an 11th!
To say I was devastated is an understatement. I had put all my energy over the past eight years into achieving one goal – Olympic Gold. To be honest, I had never in all that time even thought of any other result in China. So when I realised that it wasn’t going to happen, it really took me by surprise and emotionally I wasn’t ready for it. I found myself really questioning myself and my whole journey to get to that point.
After the Olympics, I kind of went into hiding for awhile. I just didn’t want to talk about it to anyone, not even family. Even now, writing this, I get emotional when I think of the feelings I had watching the medal race from the break wall and seeing Paul Goodison win the Gold Medal. That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
Since the games I have heard a lot of reasons from others 'why I didn’t win'. The bottom line is that I was unable to cope with the tricky conditions that China put on. To succeed, I needed to have all bases covered but, as anyone who has sailed in tight one-design racing knows, without boat speed your options are severely limited. The conditions in China were the toughest I have ever sailed in and I give full credit to Paul Goodison for mastering them, sailing an amazing regatta and winning the Gold Medal, which he truly deserved.
I would like to also congratulate our Aussie Sailing medallists. You guys all deserve your wonderful achievements and will be great role models to the future generations.
After the games had finished, I didn’t want to even think about what now lay in the future for me. I had always thought that after I won the Gold Medal that I would change classes and try to win Gold in 2012 in another class. Since this plan has been sidetracked, I was always answering questions about my future with 'I’ll take time off and think about it'.
After we returned home we went straight up to the beautiful Hamilton Island. We attended a sponsors and patrons dinner to talk about our Olympic experience and to congratulate the team. During the dinner, Simon McKeon made a speech congratulating the team, not only the winners, but the whole team. At the end, he made mention of me, saying for me not to be down and to keep my head up because he and everyone believed that I am so much better than my result, and that 2012 will be a different story.
I’m not sure whether it was Simon’s kind words, the spirit of the night, or the several red wines in good company and comfortable surroundings, but after all the speeches were done, I decided to make an impromptu speech and announce that I had just decided that I will campaign in the Laser class the 2012 Olympics in London. 'I am better than my result in China and I will do everything in my power to bring home Gold for myself and for Australia in four years time'.
However, all that said, I do need a good break from Laser sailing. Lasers over the next year will play a back seat role and I would like to get more involved in the world of yacht racing. I have been racing Sydney 38’s and Farr 40’s over the past few years, but that was secondary to my Laser sailing. I now look forward to putting it first for a while amongst a few other projects I have in mind.
I would firstly like to thank my family for all their support over the years, for believing in my dream of a Gold Medal. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out this time but the dream and desire is still there and I can proudly say it will be a different story in four years.
I would like to thank my second family, the Australian Sailing Team, the athletes, support staff and management. Thank you so much for supporting me through the tough times in China. I’ve made some life-long friends.
Thank you to the AST sponsors, Hamo Island and the Oatley family, Audi Australia, Aus Sports Commission, AIS, Gill and the gang at Ronstan, to the AST patrons, and to my personal sponsors, Nelson Bay Laser Sales, Performance Sailcraft Australia, Kaenon, Vodaphone and Visa. I look forward to a wonderful future with you. To my agent, Geoff Jones, thanks for your help.
To everyone who has helped me over the years, whether it was telling me to pull more mainsheet as an 8 year old in Sabots at Gosford Sailing Club, Fletch kicking me out of training sessions telling me to come back when 'you learn how to f**kin’ start' (it worked!), the staff at YA who are always there to help me when I mess up container issues or miss flights - a big thank you to all of you!
And lastly (but certainly not ...…), to my coach and great mate Arthur Brett. Firstly, congrats on your marriage to the beautiful Belinda Stowell! Your help and guidance over the last five years is greatly appreciated. We have been through a lot together and I can honestly say I would not be where I am today in sailing without you. You have truly changed my life for the better. Thank you.
In closing, I’ll leave you with a quote I read in a book about Mick Fanning, World Surfing Champion, who I admire:
'Sometimes, when a man embarks on a mission, he can become impossible to stop'.
Bring on 2012!