With Ben Ainslie on board as tactician, Oracle Team USA achieved one of the most astounding sporting comebacks of all time on Wednesday night, beating Emirates Team New Zealand by 44 seconds in a dramatic finale in San Francisco. We interviewed him in March 2013 and here’s what he had to say.
You were 19 when you took part in your first Olympics at Atlanta 1996. What was that experience like?
It was a huge learning experience. When I arrived I was this wide-eyed teenager blown away by the whole Olympic atmosphere. But once I was out on the water it was much like any other event. I had to focus on trying to sail well and not get too distracted by what was going on back on land.
For Athens 2004 you moved up to the Finn class, which required you to bulk up. How did you do that?
I had to put on about 12kg, which involved a lot of weight training using high rep and set ranges. I also had to change my diet quite a bit by massively increasing my calorie and protein intake, increasing my meal sizes and taking supplements such as creatine.
How do you split your time between the boat and gym?
I spend between three to five hours a day on the water and one and a half to two hours a day in the gym, where I mix aerobic training and weight training. I have to ensure I get the right amount of rest between the water and gym too. It’s a very time-intensive sport.
How do you maintain the drive and hunger to compete?
It’s about setting achievable goals and planning how to achieve them. Sailing is quite a diverse sport that involves lots of different challenges, so there’s always something to aim for.
You have a reputation for being ruthless. Is that fair?
I guess it’s more just having a willingness to do what it takes to win – within the rules. When you’re competing you’re racing to win, otherwise I personally don’t see the point in doing it. You need to have that determination to keep winning and keep at it – and as long as I’m sailing within the rules, I’ll continue that.
Which was your toughest Olympic victory and which are you most proud of?
London 2012 was the toughest because the conditions weren’t to my liking – there were strong winds and it was difficult to keep the pace – but it was also my proudest. To win a gold medal on home water in front of a home crowd was a very proud moment.
You were a flag bearer at the London 2012 closing ceremony. What was that experience like?
It was the perfect end to an amazing Olympics. It was surreal too. I remember wondering how the hell I’d ended up in this situation! It was a great feeling.
You’re in the process of training for the America’s Cup. What does it take to win that?
You need commercial backing, a strong design team to develop the strongest and fastest boat, a sailing team with experience, and strong management. But we have the talent in the UK to do it – it’s just a case of getting the support behind it.
Ben Ainslie’s autobiography, Close To The Wind, is out now in paperback priced £7.99 (vintage-books.co.uk (opens in new tab)).
Sam Rider is an experienced freelance journalist, specialising in health, fitness and wellness. For over a decade he's reported on Olympic Games, CrossFit Games and World Cups, and quizzed luminaries of elite sport, nutrition and strength and conditioning. Sam is also a REPS level 3 qualified personal trainer, online coach and founder of Your Daily Fix (opens in new tab). Sam is also Coach’s designated reviewer of massage guns and fitness mirrors.
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