Four years ago Tom Burton was training alongside Tom Slingsby striving to secure Australia’s one laser London 2012 Games spot, only to miss out as Slingsby went onto win Olympic gold. Now, the 25-year-old will get his chance for Olympic glory after he was today selected on to the 2016 Australian Olympic Team for Rio.
The Sydneysider joins six sailors already on the Team; Mathew Belcher, Will Ryan, Nathan Outteridge, Iain Jensen, Lisa Darmanin and Jason Waterhouse.
The current world number one laser sailor, Burton is ecstatic to achieve Olympic selection
“Obviously I spent the last seven years sailing a Laser, aiming towards this goal and to get the opportunity to compete at an Olympic Games is a dream come true,” he said. “It hasn't really sunk in. In our sailing team there have already been some others who have been selected earlier, so it'll be good to join them in getting ready for the experience.
“Thinking back to past Olympics and watching the Opening Ceremony on television and watching the Australian Team walk in and knowing I will be a part of that team is something I’m very excited about.”
It’s been a tough qualification for Burton, competing against fellow Australian Matt Wearn for the country’s one laser spot at Rio.
“The battle was of the highest standard. At the moment we are ranked one and two in the world. Sailing’s a harsh sport where only one person can go per class. Four years ago it was me in his shoes helping Tom Slingsby train in the lead up to London. The battle this time though was much closer for selection.”
Australian Sailing Team High Performance Director Peter Conde said it’s been fantastic to see Burton and Wearn work together to drive each other to improve.
“One of the interesting things about this selection battle is how closely Matt and Tom have worked together,” Conde said. “To have them ranked world number one and two is a testament to working together and to coach Michael Blackburn.”
Conde sees a lot of similarity in the battle for qualification before London and Rio.
“It’s a good parallel between Tom Slingsby and when Tom Burton was right up there with him. It shows the great strength of the laser program.”
He said Wearn already has his eye on making the Tokyo 2020 Games Team.
“The Tokyo Games, they were his words to me when I spoke to Matt to tell him Tom had been selected. Matt is steadily improving and has outstanding potential.”
It’s been a long journey for Burton, who took up sailing at age nine, then competitive racing at age 14. He said he was following in his family’s footsteps.
“My dad’s a keen sailor so we were always going to regattas for him, so I was always around sailing even if I didn’t participate. So the sailing talk just became a part of me which I guess saw me get back involved and love it.”
Among career highlights for Burton is a second place at the 2014 World Championships in Santander, his first podium at a Worlds. Last year he also claimed two World Cup victories; Abu Dhabi and Hyeres.
Currently in Rio de Janeiro training, he said the reality of selection hasn’t hit him yet.
“It means a lot, but honestly hasn't really sunk in as yet. I’m over in Rio in a training block so there isn't much time to sit back and look at the journey as yet. I’m looking forward to getting home and have a quiet sit down and look back on the past years and really appreciate the journey.”
Burton has a good feel for what the atmosphere of the Games will be like.
“I’ve been to Rio five or so times now. It’s got some awesome weather. I have no doubt the city will turn the atmosphere on come Games time and it will be a sight to see. The city is like no other and takes a bit of getting used to but becomes familiar after a while. It would help if my Portuguese was a tad better!”
Australia now has 35 athletes confirmed from five sports for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with the final team of around 450 athletes to be selected by mid-July.
Australian sailors at the London Games won a record three gold and one silver medal. Australia is aiming to maintain the number one sailing nation ranking at Rio 2016.