How will Paul Goodison beat his former best friend Tom Slingsby for Gold in the Laser?
Paul Goodison knows a lot about personal relationships in the Olympics. His partner is Team GB 470 sailor Saskia Clark and his former best friend is Australian Laser sailor Tom Sligsby. But sometimes a friendship needs to be sacrificed in the name of a medal.
Goodison is the defending Olympic champion in the Laser class, a former World and European champion. He also knows what it feels like to lose at the top level and openly admits to the 2004 Olympics in Athens as not only his lowest point, after finishing in fourth, but a place that he never wants to re-visit.
This time his heart set on winning a Gold at a home Olympics in more ways than one as he and Clark living just metres from the Olympic sailing waters. But this year Slingsby has beaten him at several of the key events and goes into the Games as the favourite in the Laser.
The tension between the two appears to have built significantly as the pair made the headlines recently in a dispute in a bar that appeared to reveal the true degree to which their relationship had changed. So has Slingsby got to Goodison and how was the defending Olympic champion planning to beat the man who could snatch his dream?
“Me and Tom were best mates for many years, but we had a bit of an incident in Palma last year and had a disagreement where we didn’t see eye to eye,” he said. “I guess at that point I was deep in my trials and he was better mates with Nick [Thompson] than he was with me. So he was there working with Nick to get the best they could and win the trials. It’s all about winning the Olympics.”
Nick Thompson is another talented Laser sailor who had previously been vying for the British Olympic team place before later becoming Goodison’s training partner. The apparent, albeit temporary, defection by a UK sailor to the strongest competitor and a former close friend clearly struck a nerve. But Goodison is pragmatic about the situation and clear that if you have your eyes set on the biggest prize of all, some things have to be sacrificed.
“He’s a great guy and a very talented sailor,” he said of Slingsby, “but at the end of the day he’s the guy that I’m up there against along with three or four others that are going to be very tough to beat. I’ve got to put myself in a position where I can work as hard as I can at beating them. Sometimes you can’t be best mates with those people.”
Nevertheless, the tension has continued through this season too. At Sail for Gold earlier this year Goodison felt aggrieved that he had been team raced off the podium by the Australians. Just a few days later in a bar in the Weymouth area, sparks flew once again.
Yet the story of the British/Australian rivalry has two sides and runs deeper following Goodison’s hiring of Slingsby’s former coach, Arthur Brett in January 2012. How much had he learned about the man he was out to beat?
“I started working with Arthur earlier this year,” he said. “He was in the past Tom’s coach and has a lot of experience working with Tom. But for me, what he’s really brought is a lot of the technical aspects, particularly in the stronger winds and my game’s moved on tremendously in the last six months. He has passed on some information about Tom but more so about what I can do to make myself better.”
So how is he going to beat Slingsby?
“The aim is to win the Olympics. To do that I not only have to beat Tom, but there are 48 other boats on the start line. I know he is one of the most talented Laser sailors out there and to beat him I have to be at my very best. But I’m sure that if I do that and perform every day I will win and walk away with another Gold medal. If I don’t sail at my best and the others do, it’s going to be very difficult for me to win.
“So for me its about turning up on the day and doing the best I can because at the end of the day you can’t control the other guys, you can only do what you do.”
Living so close to the Olympic venue and training there must surely provide him with a home advantage, so how much confidence does he have going into the event sailing on home waters?
“I have massive confidence,” he said. “This last week has been particularly interesting for me. In the last three weeks there haven’t been many foreign competitors out there training on the Olympic waters. For me that feels very strange. For both my campaigns for Athens and Beijing and indeed for the rest of the team, we thought it was very important to spend as much time as possible training on those waters before the Games.
“So for me to be out there with my training partners with so few foreign competitors out there training, that gives me massive confidence that I’m learning more, making gains and putting myself in a better position.
“Then you turn up this week to find very different conditions, yesterday was virtually unsailable and today is unsailable, and I’m quite happy sitting in the hotel eating lunch or going out for a game of golf and relaxing knowing that I haven’t got to be out on the water learning about the conditions because I’ve done my preparation. That gives me a lot of confidence of the foreign rivals.”
Throughout this season there have been plenty of occasions to witness Slingsby getting the better of Goodison but while words might be cheap, the British sailor looks focussed and threatening.
This promises to be one of the key matches of the Games.