The atrocious, dated decor of a bygone era jarred against the fabulous content and excellent presentation of the World Sailor of the Year Awards 2021 last night as Tom Slingsby, Hannah Mills and Eilidh MacIntyre were rightfully crowned, anointed by 40,000 voting peers.
The Victoriana aside – quite why they didn’t shoot the show in the adjacent Pavilion to project a more modern image is anyone’s guess – it was a terrific and entertaining presentation by World Sailing totally made by the visual compilations, the excellent Hannah White (she should be signed up for America’s Cup and SailGP commentary immediately) and the peerless Shirley Robertson who just oozes inside track class and the smoothest voice in the sport. The sailors made the show – they always do.
Quanhai-Li, President of World Sailing, was incomprehensible and read from an autocue. David Graham looked like he was wanting to read us all a goodnight story from the library but the content, platitudes and gratitudes were all there – as they must be on occasions like this.
The highlights were the sailor interviews and what a terrific show they put on – humble, grateful and all using their powerful platforms at the top of the sport to drive participation, diversity and sustainability programmes whilst serving as inspirational ambassadors to future generations. They were terrific – all of them.
And the voting public got it bang on, spot on, right on with the winners. I trust the public. They get it right nine times out of ten and in choosing Hannah & Eilidh who scooped nearly 40% of the female athlete vote, against some unbelievable competition, these two are rightly held in such esteem to be colossus of our sport.
The way those two sailed in Tokyo was something else, other worldly, but they’ve captured that ‘Je ne sais quoi’ of being utterly accessible, relatable and human. As the award was announced both took it with grace and said absolutely the right things.
What struck me with a lot of the interviews, particularly the Olympians, was the post-competition soul-searching for new challenges. Winning Gold is such a monumental feat of determination and focus that it’s hard to replicate or replace without going again.
Achieving an ambition that you’ve aimed at since your first outing in an Oppy is beautiful and magical but then what? Psychologists have written acres about this phenomenon and no doubt Olympic teams have programmes to help the athletes but it’s a real issue and one that only the very best can opine on and experience. It was much in evidence with Hannah and Eilidh but their pathway is, no doubt whatsoever, bright and full of opportunity.
As a great example of going again, up next was the male athlete award and with a field of absolute superstars, the public were faced with a tough call. Pete & Blair had a season to die for but their star has tarnished slightly since the news of them not re-signing for Team New Zealand has left them down the public’s pecking order. It should have been a cakewalk after winning the Cup so spectacularly in March. It wasn’t to be.
The shoot-out was between Tom Slingsby and Giles Scott for the Rolex Sailor of the Year and either merited it. Giles for that ridiculously brilliant win in Tokyo and Tom for the Moth Worlds annihilation alongside SailGP and that controversial but almost certainly never-to-be-repeated race record Middle Sea victory on Comanche.
It would have been nice to see the Finn bow out of Olympic competition with its pinnacle sailor scooping the title but you can’t deny the force that is Slingsby in the sport at the moment. Almost certainly the best all-round sailor on the planet right now, his analysis of how he forced his way from relentless Laser dinghy sailing for over a decade into big boats was inspiring for the kids to watch and learn from.
And what a nice guy. He came over exuding gratitude and far more than just the housewives favourite, Tom is the sailor of the moment and it’s a rare talent we are privileged to witness. On balance the public got it right but I’d say the same if Giles had won. It must have been close.
The video below is well worth a watch. Even if you just view the opening scenes. What a sport we have and whoever put the opening montage together deserves an Oscar.
Equally, the focus towards the end on the #BacktheBid programme to reinstate Paralympic sailing for Los Angeles is a vital one, well presented by Hannah Stodel who is now a World Sailing Paralympic Ambassador.
We all need to double-down on our efforts and do whatever we can to ensure that sailing gets the nod – it’s a booming discipline, something that is unquestionable and its exclusion unfathomable. The President needs a rocket up his you-know-where to get this on the roster and I have to say I don’t have very much faith in his communication skills on last night’s evidence. I really don’t care how many tables he has to bang – failure is not an option. Get it done or get out of the hot seat.
Overall a good show and the right results. The profiling was a miss – the sport has to move on from dusty bookshelves, castles, oil paintings and candelabra – but the message was strong. Sailing in all corners is vibrant, youthful, bright and encouraging. It’s the sport of the moment and everywhere you look it’s happening.
Congratulations to the winners. Commiserations to the runners-up but well done for keeping your Oscar faces on as the Rolexes were dished out.
Classy lot our sailors. Classy.