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Australia break drought with thrilling victory at SailGP Sydney

Australia have claimed their first victory of SailGP season four, breaking their drought with a thrilling win on home soil on Sunday.

Tom Slingsby’s Aussies were in great form in Saturday’s fleet races — finishing first, second and fourth — but had two poor starts in the final two fleet races before Sunday’s event final.

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They did enough to qualify for the three-boat final against New Zealand and Denmark and once again Slingsby and his crew rose to the occasion when it mattered most.

But there was a heart-in-mouth moment when both the Aussies and Kiwis had to give the Danes the lead when they crossed the start line too early.

Australia recovered to be hot on the heels of Denmark before pulling off an aggressive move midway through the race as Slingsby turned his F50 boat inside Gate 3 to take the lead by the skin of his teeth.

Denmark were chasing their first ever SailGP event victory but Australia did just enough to hold them off by a couple of boat lengths as both teams made identical manoeuvres in the final stages.

Australia collects 10 points from the victory and extends their lead over New Zealand in the overall championship to eight points.

It’s Team Australia’s first win on Sydney Harbour since SailGP’s first season in 2019 and reinstates their status as the team to beat in the global sailing league likened to Formula One on water.

“We’re so happy to win,” Slingsby said.

“It’s our first win of the season. We’ve been so close so many times. It almost makes it sweeter to win here in Sydney, Australia — in front of our family and friends. It doesn’t get any better.”

Denmark’s driver Nicolai Sehested thought Australia’s boat came too close on the crucial overtaking move.

“I thought it was too tight. I thought it was a penalty,” he said.

“But obviously the umpire felt differently. It definitely felt tight on board.

“After that it’s just follow the leader. But it’s hard to overtake Australia. They’re so consistent once they get out in front.”

Slingsby has challenged the next generation of SailGP skippers to step up, and his victory backed up his fighting words with actions.

Australia have won the first three seasons of SailGP and remain the favourites to pull off an unprecedented championship four-peat if they can maintain their form.

“It’s been a tough season,” Slingsby told news.com.au.

“I don’t want to be the one complaining because we’ve been doing really well but to be in six finals and lose six finals, it starts to to knock your confidence and you start questioning, ‘Are we good enough to win anymore? Is New Zealand better than us?’

“To win an event with a lot of pressure on us is huge for our confidence. It means more than just season points.”

Slingsby did a shoey after being egged on by raucous fans on Sydney’s Shark Island.

“The atmopshere for the prize giving on Shark Island, that was something unbelievable,” Slingsby told news.com.au.

“We often go overseas and if we have won, we do the national anthem and we’re the only people who know the words.

“To have a thousand people screaming the national anthem, that was something I’ll remember for the rest of life. It was so cool. Everyone was so happy out there.

“Sailing is starting to make a mark in Australia. Previously we’ve struggled to get Australian spectators keen on sailing, but I can tell you now some of the faces out there were loving.

“That just makes me proud to be an Aussie.”

SailGP season four continues at the New Zealand event in Christchurch in late March.

Events in Bermuda, Halifax and New York follow before the championship final in San Francsico in July.

SailGP season four leaderboard

Australia — 66 points

New Zealand —58 points

Denmark — 52 points

Spain — 48 points

France — 45 points

Great Britain — 45 points

USA — 45 points

Canada — 38 points

Germany — 21 points

Switzerland — 17 points

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