At the wheel, Tom Slingsby is a privateer who sails with a knife between his teeth. Concluded the previous series, the qualifiers that leave Spain, finally, ninth of the third season, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom dispute the grand finale. In SailGP you don’t sail, you fight, and, with your fists, or a knife, the best is the Australian sailor. It is the spirit of the old regattas, what do you gamble that I win, what do you bet. And cheap shots and shortcuts are forbidden, ma non troppo. In the garish stands an Australian fan waves a giant inflatable doll, a boxing Kangaroo, yellow bug with red gloves, their proudest symbol, the fighting spirit, and from the water near the Golden Gate Bridge, where the breeze blows, Slingsby boldly answers the call to combat, lunging toward the British catamaran when they are approaching the start, overtakes it and slows it down. One less opponent. Ben Ainslie, the best Olympic sailor in history, the only one who has won a gold medal in four consecutive Games, no longer paints anything in the final. There are only two left. “They have followed the strategy they played, yes, aggressive and it is what they have, right? That they are aggressive, they take risks and it works out for them when they have to”, says the driver of the Spanish F50, Diego Botín, who watches the regatta from his boat floating motionless on the side of the regatta field. “That’s the formula, isn’t it?”
One of the attractions of SailGP are the regattas of nine F50s, like Formula 1 races in which there is something at stake in every corner, but nothing to do with a head-to-head final between perhaps the two best in the world, the New Zealander Peter Burling, so white-faced and so apparently impassive at the wheel of his catamaran, so calm in his movements, without acceleration or nerves, and Slingsby, with a fiery air, a Verstappen at the wheel who shoots like an arrow and pushes everyone away. the one who gets in the way The final is a monologue until the last tack. Slingsby arrives with an advantage. He already feels champion. Three seasons of SailGP, three victories for the Australian F50, of which the sailor from Gosford, in New South Wales, is CEO and pilot. And then all of a sudden the Aussie foils drop, the boat practically comes to a stop, Burling speeds up, closes in. People get up from their seats. They want to see it and they don’t want to see it. There are meters to go. “It’s terrible what crossed my mind so close to the finish line. When we were in that position, I was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to lose from here. I can’t believe I’m going to screw up like that, in front of all these people, everyone who was watching me on TV,” says Slingsby. “That went through my head. We had such a comfortable lead that I decided I wanted to slow down the race a bit and do some extra maneuvering to make sure. In the end, they did not get a different route, but they tacked in better positions. They were able to get out of the tacks a bit better than us. We tacked with less advantage and they kept winning, winning. Fortunately, we tacked with enough space on the last move and we were able to hold on to the end.”
And Burling does not lose his external calm, but he feels like losing it, and he says it. “The truth is that I am very disappointed,” says the pilot of the New Zealand boat that won the last two America’s Cups. “We were very close to leading in the first mark. They did a great job holding on inside. We then took what we thought was the best option below and it was probably the first time that option didn’t work all day. We have found ourselves quite far from the front and from there we have been getting closer to them. But we have fallen short.”
The million dollars at stake (winner takes all, says the motto: winner takes all) goes to Australia.
Burling is asked by Australian journalists if he doesn’t have a dartboard with Slingsby’s face in his house, that he should have reason to hate him, and he replies that since he hasn’t won it’s fine for the best man to win, and that’s it. they will meet again, in a month, in Chicago, where the fourth season of SailGP begins, and that perhaps they will also fight face to face in Barcelona, in the 2024 America’s Cup, in which Slingsby will drive the North American boat, which that he does not consider a betrayal. “My mother is Australian and my father is American,” says the sailor who in London 2012 he was Olympic champion with the Australian team in the Laser class. “I have a passport from both countries and I represent both whenever I can.” 10 years ago, always in San Francisco, he was already part of Russell Coutts’ Oracle Challenge that beat New Zealand in the America’s Cup.
The son of a sailor, Slingsby, 38, a massive physique, 6’2″, 200lbs, did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps. He preferred to play tennis, and it wasn’t bad, but he fell off his horse on the way to Damascus when the 2000 Games were held in Sydney. “I will never say that I am the best sailor of all time. Everything I’ve done in the last ten years has been with this team behind me, so if I’m ever called the best, it’s the same for everyone behind me. I have hardly won anything without these people,” says Slingsby at the press conference, kneeling before Ben Ainslie, the skipper of the British F50 he sidelined before starting the final regatta. “For me, Ben Ainslie will always be the greatest. I grew up watching him. When he was 15 years old, sitting on Sydney Harbor watching the Olympic Games, he competed for the gold medal. That’s when I said: ‘I want to be a professional sailor and try to do what he has done.’ It is a great inspiration for me. For me, it doesn’t really matter what we do from now on in our careers. What Ben has done in the past… he will always be an idol to me. Although he has beaten him a couple of times lately, for me he will always be the GOAT [greatest of all time, el más grande de todos los tiempos]”.
Spanish sailors enjoy the show. They’re a little high. They have fought much better than Saturday. “On Saturday we had a very bad day, from which we have drawn many conclusions. Today [el domingo] We have been able to apply many. We have been fighting in the fleet package at many times. We are sorry that we are missing days of training. We have errors of not calculating the distances, the speed, knowing the boat, things that only allow us to spend more time on the boat”, says Botín. “Technically, there are three teams that are ahead and we have to push hard to get to that level, to compete with them. And, also, as Russell Coutts says, we have to overcome the commercial challenge, obtain sponsorships. The two things, the sporty and the economic, go hand in hand and if one goes up, the other goes up. This is how this works. It is a part in which you have to put a lot of focus ”.
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