It’s hard even to contemplate the burden of pressure weighing on sailor Ben Ainslie’s shoulders as he prepares to win a fourth-successive gold medal at his fifth successive games (he won a silver, aged 19, at his first). Ushered into a watch boutique in One New Change, flanked by a coterie of handlers, cameramen and assorted taggers-on, he looks like a man who copes well with the scrutiny, even if it doesn’t come as naturally as manning the 4.5m Finn dinghy in which he has recently become world champion for the sixth time.
In a departure from our usual interview subjects from the world of luxury, we meet one of the world’s greatest living Olympians and find out about getting into gold-medal shape, switching to America’s Cup racing (the Formula 1 of sailing) and why he sometimes wishes he were just a regular family man.
On The Olympic Sailing Venue In Weymouth
I’ve been training there for the last couple of seasons, and a lot of the guys have been training down there for the last four or five years; it’s where we have one of our national sailing academies. That development has been taking place over a number of years, but as an Olympic venue it will be fantastic. The shore-side facilities are second to none and the sailing conditions make it a great course area to hold all the different classes in.
Will the conditions suit me? Yes and no. You’ve got to be able to cope with all conditions, but personally I’d prefer some lighter winds, though if it’s windy I can perform in that too, as I have done previously.
On The Finn Class, In Which He Sails
It’s a very tough, physical class – it really is one for the big guys. You’ve got to be big and strong to sail the boats, and some of the rule changes of the last four or five years have really opened up the physicality, so you have to work the boat incredibly hard. At times it’s not unlike a sport like rowing where the harder you can pump and rock the boat the quicker you’re going to go.
On His Training Schedule
There are three different phases to my training. There’s the endurance side, that’s mostly aerobic training like cycling. There’s weight training to get the body weight right – I’m always trying to put weight on, believe it or not. I’m quite small for the boat so I do a lot of weight training to keep the muscle mass on. And there’s specific weight training, which is really about being very powerful for a specific movement that we perform in the boat.
On Making The Leap From Dinghy Sailing To America’s Cup Racing
In a Laser or a Finn you’re sailing on your own, but the America’s Cup is all about teamwork; not only teamwork on the boat but designers, engineers and boat builders – over 100 people in total. It’s sailing’s version of Formula 1, with big teams, big budgets and a lot of politics, so totally different to dinghy sailing, but actually it’s nice to have been able to switch between the two and be refreshed in either sense.
You definitely have to take a step back from the intensity of competing on your own, and that is part of teamwork; it’s about trusting people and having good communication.
It’s a different challenge altogether.
On Occasionally Wishing He Was Just An Anonymous Guy Back Down In Cornwall
There are times when it gets a bit much, but I guess it’s part and parcel of what you have to do if you want to be a successful sailor. You have to accept that, and it is a sacrifice, but at the same time I’m really lucky to have the opportunity to do that. A lot of guys in the City earn a fortune so they can pay people like me to sail their boats around, so we all meet somewhere in the middle in the end.
On His Olympic Plans Beyond London 2012
We all have one eye on 2016 in Rio. But I’m not really thinking beyond that – my focus is solely on 2012. What happens after that, well, it’s hard to make those plans right now.
On Getting On A Bit
I’m 35 now, which is quite old for the Finn class – it’s getting really physical. I’ve had issues with my back, so I’m not sure whether my body could hold out for another four years at this intensity. I’m not going to say “you can shoot me if I get near a boat”, but there are other options. For example, there’s the two-man Star class and, if that stays in the Olympics, that might be an option for me.
Ben Ainslie is an official ambassador for Corum Timepieces. +41 32 9 670 670; corum.ch