You Can Win Without Natural Talent


What are you good at, what are you bad at? Ever looked out at a mill-pond day and told yourself “I hate light airs” or seen it blowing dogs off chains and muttered nervously: “I’m rubbish in strong winds.”

Maybe you’re just not talented enough, you tell yourself. 

First, ask yourself: 

What makes a great sailor? Talent or hard work? Probably both.

To win an Olympic gold medal though… surely that’s only within the grasp of the truly talented, right?

From Cart Horse to Racing Thoroughbred

Well, maybe not, if we’re to believe Tom King, who won an Olympic gold medal racing in the 470 for Australia on home waters in Sydney 2000. King and his crew Mark Turnbull won the gold after a spectacular season in the lead-up to the Games, winning the World Championships and a handful of other big regattas along the way.

The gold medal was certainly no fluke, and yet a year earlier, no one would have given King and Turnbull a hope of winning any kind of medal, let alone the gold. Yes, they’d been on the scene for a while, but this world-beating form seemed to come out of nowhere.

It wasn’t just the men either. The Aussie women, Belinda Stowell and Jenny Armstrong, also took gold on Sydney Harbour. And all this from a nation with a very poor record in the 470 class.

Not since Ian Brown and Ian Ruff had won a bronze at the 1976 Games in Montreal had Australia even had a sniff of a medal in the 470. In fact, they were so bad that the Aussie selectors refused to even send a team to the Games for one Olympiad, even though the sailors had qualified the nation.

At the 1996 Games in Atlanta, the most successful 470 nation was Ukraine, with the men and women’s teams winning gold and bronze respectively. Both had been coached by Victor Kovalenko, a seemingly mild-mannered Ukrainian, yet famed and feared for his fierce work ethic.

 From a no-hope, 470 nation to kings of the 470 in less than four years – and Australia has continued to dominate this Olympic class ever since.

The helms and crews come and go, but in Olympic, World and other major regattas, it’s always the Australians who are setting the benchmark.


So, what was – and is – the secret?  Sheer, hard work. That’s what Tom King said was the secret. 

Relentless tacks, gybes, tuning runs, starts, breaking down every manoeuvre into the tiniest detail and working on each detail and the sailors could execute perfectly. “We trained, and trained until talent was no longer an issue,” said King.

“Until talent was no longer an issue.” What could YOU do, to make sure that talent is no longer an issue?