Among the sailors competing in the Hempel World Cup Series in Miami this week, Australian Tom Burton stands out.
Not only because his name is close to American film director Tim Burton, but because the Olympic gold medalist won top honors in the Laser Class race here last year and wants to do it again. Competition began on Jan. 28 and runs through Feb. 3.
“I love to win, but also to compete. I enjoy the feeling of setting a goal and chasing it,” he said.
The races are some of the most competitive in Olympic sailing. The boats are all made with the same design and dimensions, according to the International Laser Class Association, so sailors rely on their skill and abilities to navigate into better position during the race.
Last year, Burton went into the medal race with a 30 point lead over his closest competitor and easily won gold.
“He won last year with a day to spare,” said World Sailing spokesman Daniel Smith. “He’s always been one of the top Olympic sailors, and he’s one of the favorites for Tokyo.”
Burton won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, his first time competing in the games.
“It was a tense final race for Tom, between him and Croatian sailor Tonči Stipanović,” said Smith. “They had a close race on the water. Tom managed to do enough to win. He overcame quite a big points cap to win.”
Under the point system, which are awarded by finishes in individual heats, the lowest score wins. For example, a sailor that finishes in first place receives one point, while the second place person receives two points and so on. In medal races, the points given are doubled, so a first place finish is worth two points. After a total of 10 races, the point total determines the overall winner.
In the Olympics, Burton finished in 17th place during the first race, but low finishes throughout the rest of the week kept him in the top 10 for the medal race. Going into the medal race, Burton had 84 points while Stipanović had 85. Burton finished that race with 90 points while Stipanović finished with 103.
Off the water, Burton is well respected.
“He’s quite a friendly guy, quite open,” said Smith.
He added that Matthew Wearn, a fellow countryman and Laser Class competitor, could be one of Burton’s biggest rivals this week.
“Yeah, he is a super consistent competitor,” said Wearn. “You can never write him off. He is always happy to have some banter on and off the water. He loves chatting about the mouth, but he’s all round good guy.”
As of Jan. 31, Burton is in tenth place out of 101 sailors after five races with six more to go. Wearn is in 11th place. The Laser Class medal race takes place on Feb. 3.