Roger McMillan - Story on Tom Slingsby

Does Loyal's Sydney Hobart win make Tom Slingsby the best all-round sailor in the world?

When the 100ft super maxi Perpetual Loyal crossed the finish line at Battery Point at 2.35am this morning, Tom Slingsby added another "gong" to his already bulging resume.

Slingsby was already one of only nine men in history to have won an Olympic gold medal and the America's Cup. As far as I can ascertain, he is now the only one of those nine to have won a major offshore race as well.

(NOTE: It has since been pointed out that Sir Russell Coutts has major wins in ocean races, including the 1995 Hobart and a course record in the 2005 Transpac. So Tom is the second sailor to achieve the treble, not the first.)

From the time that he switched his attention from tennis to sailing at the age of 15, Slingsby was always destined for greatness. He is an intensely competitive yet very likeable man and his ability to read what wind shifts are doing a long way up the race track are legendary.

John Bertrand, the man who helmed Australia II to victory in the America's Cup in 1983, is a big admirer. Speaking of his success with Slingsby in his crew at the 2010 Etchells Worlds, he said it was remarkable to be sailing with a man who not only saw the wind shift that was coming towards them but could also call the cumulative effects of that one, the one behind it and the one behind that.

Bertrand also came ashore laughing at Sail for Gold in Weymouth in 2011 after watching Slingsby work over fierce rival Paul Goodison on the Laser startline. Goodison had attacked Slingsby, who stood up in the boat, physically spilled the wind from his sail by lifting the boom, then flicked the rudder and put Goodison in an impossible position from which he never recovered.

There was certainly a touch of Slingsby magic in Perpetual Loyal's superb start to this year's Sydney Hobart. After forcing Wild Oats to duck the entire fleet, Loyal also worked over Scallywag, putting her in Loyal's dirty air and forcing them into an extra and costly tack.

Loyal's owner, Anthony Bell, was fulsome in his praise for Slingsby, both on and off the boat, after the race. Although one of the highest-paid sailors in the world, Slingsby gives his time to Loyal free and is one of the major drawcards when raising funds for the Loyal Foundation which buys vital medical equipment for childrens' hospitals.

Slingsby is also no stranger to coming back after adversity. He went into the 2008 Beijing Olympics as the raging favourite in the Laser class but finished 22nd. Vowing never to let that happen again, he undertook a gruelling four year campaign that saw him totally dominate the fleet to win gold at London 2012. And of course he was strategist on Oracle Team USA when they came from 8-1 down to win the 2013 America's Cup in San Francisco.

As well as his six Laser World titles and Olympic gold, he has the 2010 Etchells Worlds (the year in which he was also named Rolex International Sailor of the Year) and a D1 (single-handed skiff) world title to his credit.

Sir Ben Ainslie is often called the best sailor in the world and his five Olympic medals, four of them gold, his 2010 World Match Racing Championship and his key role in Oracle's win in 2013 certainly bear that out.

But Slingsby now has bragging rights with a major offshore win to his credit. Might we see Sir Ben in the Fastnet Race once the Bermuda America's Cup is over?

- Roger McMillan



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