With medals from five consecutive Olympics, Sir Ben Ainslie is the most successful sailor in Olympic history. A former member of the winning Oracle team, he now has his sights on the winning the America’s Cup as captain of the Land Rover BAR team:
When I get into a boat, all I think about is winning. It’s like I change into a different person.
I got into racing through my parents, despite growing up nowhere near the seaside. My parents were keen sailors and we used to go to the coast on holidays. When I was 10 we moved to Cornwall in the UK, and I was able to get a lot more access to
I was 15 before I realised the potential that I had. I was a reasonably talented youngster, but I was a bit shy. I used to
get bullied at school, and sailing was my salvation. Not until I starting winning international competitions did people around me realise that it was not just a hobby.
Sailing is an incredibly diverse sport. You have to be fit and strong, but you also have to have an understanding of the weather, the wind and the seas. You have to be very strategic as well to be able to put that all together while sailing the boat as fast as you can. It’s like playing chess on the water.
My proudest moment was at the London Olympics in 2012. To get a fourth gold medal on home waters was very special. It will be hard to top that one.
The Olympics is fantastic because it’s the culmination of a four-year goal. That kind of dedication teaches you a lot about commitment and even more about sacrifice. The opportunity to represent your country at the games is something unique and very special.
In Olympic sailing you are effectively running a small business for four years down the track. I was 19 when I went to my first Olympics, and I had to grow up rather quickly. I had to learn about campaigning, fund raising and the professionalism that comes with it.
I don’t like losing. I normally need time to cool down, so I’ll go for a run or head to the gym to let off steam.
I’m the same weight now as I was when I was 19. In sailing, weight is very important, especially in individual events where I did most of my Olympic racing. Now, however, as the helmsman of an America’s Cup team it’s the other guys who do the hard, physical work. For me, it’s like being a jockey, the lighter I can be the heavier the rest of the guys can be.
Pressure is inevitable, especially if you are trying to achieve something really special. But I think most of the pressure comes from within. I have a desire to be successful, so I just accept that there will be pressure and deal with it.
The secret to success is dealing with high pressure situations well as a team. It’s inevitable that you’ll have good and bad days, but it’s about how you handle it as a group.
I want to take on the best. There’s a healthy rivalry between me and Jimmy [Spithill] that pushes you both to do better. Plus, if you can go out there and beat your rivals then it is that much more rewarding. That’s what sport is all about.
There are a lot of egos involved in sailing, like most sports, but it remains one of those where once you get back to shore you can share a drink with a competitor.
Everyone wants to beat the defending champions. In the America’s Cup they are given a pass into the final. The rest of us have to compete to see who faces them. To win the cup you have to get through so many rounds of racing, even before you race the defenders. That’s what makes it so hard, but so worth it.
I would like to be remembered as a good family man, and a great sailor.