As a youngster growing up on Australia’s east coast he did not like sailing; he was bribed by his sisters to crew for them, at 20c a race.
What a difference a few years makes - 2010 World Sailor of the Year, four World Championship titles, he is one of the hottest Olympic Gold Medal prospects and has now joined the America’s Cup scene.
25 year old Tom Slingsby from Gosford, north of Sydney, NSW is currently training for Perth 2011 with the Australian Sailing Team.
Crowned 2010 ISAF World Sailor of the Year, Tom won his third Laser World Championship last year and has been on the podium in the last nine World Cup events.
Slingsby tells his story. ‘My family got me into sailing. I remember my first sailing season as I didn’t enjoy it too much – my twin sisters used to pay me 20 cents per race just to stay on the boat. I sailed the junior classes, went OK but nothing flash. My favourite sport was tennis, I used to train five days a week but then at 15 I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do.
‘I had all this time on my hands. I didn’t really want to do school work so I went out training every afternoon in the Laser and after three months of doing that I finished first at the Nationals. I’d finished 61st the year before.
‘We lived on Brisbane Waters, it’s the sea but it is exactly the same as lake sailing. It is flat water, very shifty and I remember sitting on our front deck every afternoon doing my homework, which I hated.
‘Watching the boats racing, I remember looking at all the angles of the gusts coming from down the bay and I remember just visualising myself being out there - where I would tack and where I would go and that sort of stuff.
‘Only later in my sailing career did I realise how much that has helped me. I can look at a gust and know exactly what it is going to do – if it is going to knock me five degrees, if it is going to lift me 10 degrees.
‘The thing that made me want to sail at the top level was the 2000 Olympics - I went down to Sydney every day for two weeks to watch the sailing. I remember watching Robert Scheidt and Ben Ainslie sailing for the Laser Gold Medal.
'From that day forward I have dedicated everything to Olympic Sailing.'
Victor Kovalenko, the Australian Sailing Team head coach, has delivered an amazing string of 470 Gold Medals from his native Ukraine and Australia.
Back in 2000 he said in an interview with Sail-World ‘My philosophy of coaching and preparation for Olympic Games is the following; first year is learning year. Second year improvement. Third year is the year of success. Fourth year is year of domination.'
It seems that nine months from the 2012 London Olympics Slingsby, the number one ranked Laser sailor in the world, knows the script.
Slingsby started the 2011 European season slowly (by his standards) with a silver medal in the Laser class at the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofia, finishing behind the reigning Olympic Champion Paul Goodison (GBR) and followed this with a bronze at the Semaine Olympique Francaise (Hyeres) Regatta, also behind his British rival. Since then he has not been headed.
Slingsby most recently won his fourth regatta in a row at the Weymouth and Portland International Regatta, the test event at the sailing venue for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Coming off the water after an Australian Laser training session with Coach Michael Blackburn, Slingsby said ‘Perth 2011 will decide 75% of the Olympic sailing places. For almost every country that will be their last Olympic Trial Event. It is a big event and they are all going to come out and race.
‘It’s a big deal for the Australian team that’s for sure.
‘For Perth the expectations are for a big wind regatta in December.
‘This week we’ve had a 20 knot sea breeze every afternoon. These conditions certainly seem to favour me over say Paul Goodison, who dominated in the light conditions leading up to Qingdao (China) and then won Olympic Gold in that regatta.
‘My aim is to do what Paul did in the last Olympic cycle.
‘In recent years I’ve generally done better in the stronger conditions, so I think Perth and the 2012 Olympic venue will favour me.
‘I’m relaxed going into this regatta. I have done most of what I’ve needed to do selection wise and even if I had a bad regatta, I feel the other Australian guys would qualify us. But for me second place is not an option.
‘We could easily have three Australian sailors in the Laser medal race in Perth. Tom Burton is now really stepping up and he and Ryan Palk, along with Ashley Brunning and James Burman, these guys are the future.
‘Blackers (Michael Blackburn –the 2006 Laser World Champion) our coach is just so experienced, another set of eyes for me. We confer to see if we agree on things. He often suggests different modes for different conditions and he really motivates me. With the young guys; we practice together, de-brief together and they are learning all the time. I want a strong Aussie Laser contingent to follow on from me, so I am doing everything I can to bring them along.
‘There are probably 30 guys who could make the medal round in Perth. Beyond the Australians I’d expect to see Nick Thompson and Paul Goodison from Great Britain and both Andrew Murdoch and Andy Maloney from New Zealand could be there.
‘And certainly Simon Groteluschen and possibly Phillip Buhl from Germany, Julio Alsogaray from Argentina, Andreas Geritzer Austria, Bruno Fontes from Brazil, Rutger van Schaardenburg (Nederlands) too and Brad Funk (USA) could come back into the picture. It’s going to be a very interesting regatta.’
Tom Slingsby (R) on the Laser podium - Semaine Olympique Francais 2011 - © DPPI - FFV
Right now the focus is Perth 2011, but Tom Slingsby has plenty ahead.
He has just signed a deal with Oracle Racing, the America’s Cup defender for the 2013 campaign. Last week he sailed with his Aussie mates James Spithill, the defending America’s Cup helmsman and another Oracle helmsman Darren Bundock, who has won 11 multihull word titles, in the AC45’s on San Francisco Bay.
‘My contract with Oracle allows me to sail with the team when I can, without cutting across my London 2012 campaign and after the Olympics I will join the program full time through to the defence in 2013. I dont have a specified role at the moment but the sailing i did in San Fran was in a tactical role'
‘Nathan Outteridge, James Spithill and myself sailed at the A Cat Worlds on Lake Macquarie (NSW) in 2010, which Glenn Ashby won for the sixth time. (Ashby is now sailing for Team New Zealand as a coach and trimmer in the Emirates Team NZ America’s Cup Challenge).
‘Nath (Outteridge) and I have just bought new A Cats to sail the 2012 Australian A Cat Nationals at Wangi Wangi (Lake Macquarie, NSW).
‘Looks like it will be quite an America’s Cup show. We expect James, John Kostecki, Bundy (Bundock), Glenn (Ashby) and Dean Barker will be there, as well as lots of others.’
Slingsby has also sailed at Moth, Farr 40, SB3 and Melges 32 Worlds over the last year.
But right now Slingsby has some important events to sail in the Laser class.
Next week the entire Australian Sailing Team, along with the Australian Sailing Squad (the development squad) head to Melbourne for the first round of the 2012 ISAF World Sailing Cup.
Slingsby is upbeat. ‘We are expecting plenty of wind at Sail Melbourne - it’s a great regatta and the Australians are looking for some good results.’