Ben Ainslie interview: Part 1

Skandia Sail for Gold 2011 is crunch time for many sailors, the strong British Finn squad included. Ben Ainslie is the favourite, but the three-time Olympic Champion has never had it so tough trying to beat his fellow Brits, Giles Scott and reigning World Champ Ed Wright among them....

Ben Ainslie: Yeah that’s right, I mean we train hard together and that works well and I think proven in the past it’s a British Squad that works. You’re right when it comes to racing, it’s each man for himself and that’s just the way it’s always been. I think we’re all reasonably good at dealing with that. Obviously there’s going to be a lot more at stake at the next event than there has been for quite a while, if ever. So it’s going to be a pretty high-pressured situation.

SailJuice: Ben, tell us about the competition between the four, or do you call it the five of you?

Ben Ainslie: Well, there’s really Giles and Ed who have been guys who have got the results the last couple of years and then there’s Mark and Andrew, the other young guns that are coming through and sail really well on their day so yeah, I guess there’s five British guys who could say on their day are in the top ten in the world.

SailJuice: And who do you feel are most of a threat?

Ben Ainslie: Well it’s pretty condition dependent to be honest. If we get a good breeze, then all of those guys are really hard to beat because they’re all big guys. All the young guys, Giles, Mark, Andrew’s over 6ft 5in, really fit and strong and are hard to beat. They’re very quick and Ed is, Ed’s a heavy air specialist as well. If it’s a range of conditions, well it’s a bit different and if it’s only in the lighter conditions, I’m quite strong there, so it really depends. Like I said at the beginning, Giles and Ed are the guys that got the results the last couple of seasons so I expect them to be tough for the upcoming event.

SailJuice: So is it too simplistic to say you’ll wake up on the 6th June [start of Skandia Sail for Gold] hoping that it’s calm and sunny?

Ben Ainslie: No I don’t look at it like that. I just need to be able to compete in all the conditions. That’s what I’ve been working towards, so whether it’s blowing 25 knots or it’s blowing 5 knots I can go out, I can get the results over a range of conditions through the week that should hopefully get you to the top spot.

SailJuice: Out of the guys you mentioned, what’s the sort of competitive dynamic between you because it is this really weird thing which I asked you about before, the fact that you train a lot together. I know Ed’s not quite so much in the gang if you like, but training a lot together but at certain times this year you’re going to be trying to kill each other.

SailJuice: Is there a difference between being good at sailing in these races and being very competitive? Who would sort of push it closest to the line in terms of sailing style?

Ben Ainslie: Well each sailor has his own style. Ed’s a very, he’s not a chancer, but he’s certainly puts his cards on the line and very often you see him out on the side of the course on his own.

SailJuice: Just doing something completely different.

Ben Ainslie: Doing the same thing and you think how’s that going to work? Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. Giles is a bit more conservative. He sort of plays the fleet and sails fast and picks places off here and there, so very different styles and really…

SailJuice: How do you put yourself amongst those styles?

Ben Ainslie: Well I guess my sort of style generally is more being conservative and trying to play the fleet and obviously it’s great if you can end up being in the lead at the start of the race. That makes life a lot easier, but if you, sometimes you have to do it the hard way and try and pull back through the fleet.

SailJuice: When you say conservative, trying to play the fleet, that doesn’t sound very exciting.

No it’s not very exciting really. Just the word conservative applied to a sportsman doesn’t sound right, but does that mean that you’re playing, you’re racing a more intelligent race or…

Ben Ainslie: I think so, you’re sort of playing the percentages of what you think might work. It’s very hard in sailing to actually be 100% right on the side of the course you’re picking. If someone would tell you that they always have a knack of knowing which side’s going to pay, well they’d probably be lying to you. I mean that just doesn’t happen like that, and so if you’re not sure then you have to try and play the percentages. Stick with the fleet and make the gains when you know that you’re going the right way, you know that you’re going to make a gain, otherwise you are just rolling a dice basically. Some people like doing that, others don’t. I’ve never been very good at doing that.

SailJuice: The medal race that must be a different mentality is it? Can you bring the same conservatism to the medal race?



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