LONDON (Reuters) - Screaming across Sydney Harbour at the helm of a 50-foot foiling catamaran with Australia’s green and gold emblazoned on its sail and its flag flying is a dream come true for Tom Slingsby.
The 34-year-old is not only getting to lead his own team as skipper of the Australian SailGP team this week, he also sees the chance to showcase the country’s sailing prowess and potentially kick-start a tilt at the America’s Cup.
“This is the first time we have been able to pull an Australian team together on a world stage,” Slingsby told Reuters by telephone as he prepared for the debut six-nation SailGP event in Sydney which begins on Friday.
Slingsby won Olympic gold in the Laser dinghy class in 2012 and was tactician on Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA when he and countryman Jimmy Spithill, who skippered the team, lifted the America’s Cup in San Francisco in 2013.
But he rues the fact that Australia has not been able to put together its own challenge for the “Auld Mug”, the oldest trophy in international sport, in recent years, with the country’s top sailors such as Nathan Outteridge, Kyle Langford and Sam Newton among those who have sailed on teams representing other nations.
“Sailing in Australia is booming. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have an America’s Cup team, I think we could be extremely successful,” said Slingsby, who tried but failed to get backing for an Australian entry for the next edition in 2021.
“The Australian public will look at this and see it’s an amazing sport and ask why haven’t we competed (in the America’s Cup) if we are a success in SailGP,” he added.
“I would like to do both. That would be the dream.”
SailGP, which is recycling some of the catamarans from the last America’s Cup event in Bermuda in 2017, is bankrolled by Oracle boss Ellison and run by New Zealander Russell Coutts, who is promising adrenaline-filled, single-design racing.
“Its going to be right up there in terms of proud moments, something I dreamed of all my life ... Sailing a green and gold boat in Sydney Harbour, its kind of a dream come true.”
Slingsby has signed up to three years skippering the Australian SailGP entry, pitting himself against teams representing Britain, China, France, Japan and the United States in the winner-takes-all $1 million prize grand prix competition.
However, the way SailGP has been structured does not preclude him from pulling together an America’s Cup syndicate and he thinks the new event’s profile will help.
“We are hopefully going to bring a lot of new fans into sailing,” Slingsby said.
Reporting by Alexander Smith,; Editing by Alison Williams