A High Achiever
Few one-design classes are a better test of a sailor's tactical skills, boathandling acumen and physical fitness than the Laser. For the past few years, Australian Tom Slingsby, (currently 28), has dominated this class, winning the Worlds in 2007, 2008, and 2010. Despite a disappointing 2008 Olympic showing (22nd place) and a rocky 2009 Laser Worlds (17th place) that almost spelled his departure from competitive sailing, Slingsby came roaring back, winning men's Laser Gold at the 2012 Games in Weymouth.
In addition to Laser sailing, the red-hot Australian also sails in the hyper-competitive Farr 40 class where he notched a second-place finish at the 2010 Worlds as tactician aboard Transfusion. Then there's his Moth sailing. In early 2011 Slingsby finished a respectable 7th in the Worlds on his "hometown" waters of Australia's Lake Macquarie, impressive considering that he hadn't sailed these high-flying speedsters very long. And while flying around on foils doesn't directly translate to better Laser sailing, Slingsby is quick to point out that he's learning skills and lessons that transcend classes. Moreover, he also recognizes that foils and wingsails are the future of the Moth class and of the America's Cup, as seen in his current job as tactician aboard Oracle.
Given that Lasers, Moths, and AC cats reward physical fitness with podium positions, it's not surprising that Slingsby takes his physical fitness and training seriously. In addition to spending several hours a day on the water, the young Australian also spends considerable time in the gym and on his road bike, working to improve both his cardiovascular fitness and his overall strength. Be sure to watch for Slingsby in one-design circles, as well as aboard big-boat campaigns—he'll be the fit-looking guy at the front of the fleet or at the back of the boat.
Fitness and Training
How crucial is physical fitness at the upper echelons of Laser racing?
How crucial is physical fitness at the upper echelons of Laser racing? Physical fitness is extremely important in Laser sailing. Being able to sail the boat at one-hundred percent at the end of a long, windy day is often the difference between winning an event or losing it.
What about for one-design sailing in general?
I think it is. The way I describe it to someone is to imagine that you're rounding a top mark on a yacht: It's your job to hoist the kite as fast as you can and then turn and decide—within three seconds—whether you should gybe or continue on. A fitter person who isn't breathing as heavily will always make a better decision than the unfit bloke who's puffing.
What's a typical day of training for you?
I get up, go for a road-bike ride—usually for one to two hours—and then have lunch. Afterwards, I go sailing for about three hours, have a small rest, and then go to the gym for an hour or two hours. Then, it's dinner and bed.
What's more important to sailing fast? Cardio or strength training?
Both cardio and strength training are really important but it all depends on your class of boat. For Laser sailing, I would put cardio slightly higher than strength training, but for a boat like the Finn, I'd put strength training as being the slightly more important of the two.
What percentage of your training time do you spend actually sailing, versus cardio/strength training?
I would probably say 50/50, or if anything maybe 60/40, leaning towards more fitness training. It all depends on my fitness level. If I'm not as fit as I want to be going into a regatta, I spend more time on land training. But if I need to work on my sailing and racing, maybe I spend more time on the water training in my boat.
What do you think is the single most effective exercise for Laser sailing?
Cycling. It's an excellent cardio workout and it strengthens the more important muscles needed for Laser sailing, which are your legs.
Last year you won the Etchells Worlds with John Bertrand and Andrew Palfrey.
What sort of physical training/conditioning did you do for this event? Anything different from your regular Laser training routine?
No, I didn't go anything different from my usual Laser training before the Etchells Worlds. I find that if I'm Laser fit, I can sail most other boats without too many issues.
Do you alter your body weight for regattas?
Yeah, I do a bit of that but I'm not paranoid about it. I find that 82 kilograms [180 pounds] is a good weight for me to perform well in all wind and sea conditions. I usually weigh around 86 kilos [190 pounds] when I'm having a bit of time off, so it's a little dip in weight but a comfortable one. In China at the 2008 Olympics I got down to 74 kilos [163 pounds] for a light-wind week and I ended up sailing very poorly, so now I just stay at a weight that's manageable and where I'm happy.
Do you train differently for different areas? If so, can you give me some examples?
I do modify my training a little for the different venues. If my coach and I feel it will be a predominately light-air event, I will mainly work on my light-wind technique and on my feel on the boat. If we think it will be windy, I work hard on my fitness and make sure that I'm exhausted by the time I finish each of my training sessions.
Do you worry much about going out for pints with your mates, or is that stuff off limits when you're training?
No, not really. What most people don't understand is that sailing at the top level is probably 50-percent psychological. All the good teams have all the skills and it will come down to the team who can perform on the [regatta] days. I find that I compete well when I'm happy and not stressed out, so going for a beer or two with my mates every now and then relaxes me.
From a physical training perspective, how useful is it to race in other classes, besides the Laser?
I find it pretty beneficial. When I race Moths, most of my mates talk about how much their legs hurt from hiking. I actually don't even feel my legs when I sail my Moth, even though it's a class where hiking is important; rather, I find my cardio isn't quite up to scratch. Each class of boat—even if they look similar—requires different muscles to work harder in certain situations. Also, each class requires a different percentage of strength-to-cardio performance. I love racing different boats because I learn a lot about these differences and I find that my overall fitness improves in different areas.