Before the decisive Medal Race in the Men’s Laser Class, Tom Burton – 10 points behind Croatian Tonci Stipanovic – discussed his chances with his coach.
“So if I had to do this 10 times, how many times do you think I’d pull it off?” Burton asked.
“Two and a half,” his coach guessed.
“More like one.”
“One is all you need.”
With that Burton headed out to chase his almost impossible gold.
The 26 year old was destined to be a sailor, he took the sport up as a nine year old after following his father from regatta to regatta. A school excursion to the Sydney Olympic Park during the Sydney Olympics helped form the dream that set him on course for his date with destiny in Rio.
Four years ago Burton very nearly claimed selection in the Laser Category for the London Olympics. He ultimately was overlooked for training partner Tom Slingsby, who went on to claim Gold. Burton put this disappointment behind him to record strong performances in the intervening World Championships and World Cup regattas. The experiences gathered positioning him perfectly to prevail in another close selection battle for Rio over Matt Wearn.
Single minded, Burton has made plenty of sacrifices over the years to give himself the best chance at achieving his dream. Even missing his sister’s wedding two years ago so that he could train.
All of this must have been swirling in his mind as he took to the line for the medal race with a risky strategy to turn silver into gold. To do so the Sydneysider needed to finish at least five places ahead of overall race leader Stipanovic.
Knowing that the Stipanovic would most likely try and shadow him, Burton used this to his advantage. Settled in at the back of the field some twenty seconds behind the lead boat, with some smart manoeuvring he forced the Croatian into error and he collided with Burton’s boat. The race stewards directed Stipanovic to complete a penalty turn which meant the Croatian was now at the back of the field and sailing in the wrong direction and Burton was off trying to pass the necessary boats to win Gold.
“The percentage chances that I could pull it off was pretty slim.” Burton happily said after the race.
“You want to do it and you want it to come off, but we see this at many Olympics and many other championships, it’s quite easy to slow a guy down.”
“For the one move I needed to come off, that was critical to the race.”
Although he had the kind of advantage he needed, Burton still had a lot of work to do. He’d just given some of the best sailors in the world a head start and he had to pass at least five of them and hope. Pulling out all the stops, Burton steered his boat home in third place. He’d done just about all he could, now he had to wait and see where Stipanovic finished. When Stipanovic limped home in ninth Burton could celebrate; the gold was his.
First in his mind were his family and partner who were watching from the beach, which is where he headed. Thankfully some quick thinking Australian officials stopped him before he made it to shore. His miraculous effort would have been for nought because, like a British sailor was in 2012, he would have been disqualified as he had not yet been drug tested.
Catastrophe averted, Burton was later able to join his family and revel in his amazing achievement. Yet again Australia was home to the champion in the Laser Class.
As a result we now celebrate our 2016 Olympic Laser Class Sailing Champion, Tom Burton!!!