Wednesday, 1 August 2012

We need to talk about Ben

So guess what we have all been talking about in the media centre today.....and no , it wasn’t David Beckham who someone reckoned they saw in the boat park this morning. As if....

It was the plight of Ben Ainslie and whether he has left himself with too much to do with four races and the medal gig remaining to land a fourth gold medal which, when added to his silver, would make him the most decorated sailor in Olympic history.

There is so much riding on his performances this week – the rest of his life perhaps. But there are more than his results to cause concern. 

Don’t get me wrong his results would be ripper for most normal sailors. Better than ripper actually. He has been in the top three for six of his races and apart from a 12th place on Monday, has always been snapping at someone’s heels. He is lying in second place but worringly, he is TEN points behind  the Great Dane Jonas Hoegh-Christensen.

No need to panic here but with Ainslie, we are talking an unusual animal...someone who does not rest happy unless he has sucked the breath out of as many hapless opponents as possible. 

Hoegh-Christensen’s lungs have, for the record, never been as pumped up with pure energising air as they are this week  and by his own admission, he has rarely sailed better in his career.  

He has beaten Ainslie in all six races and no one can remember the last time that happened. Had he been beaten by a range of rivals, it would have been less of a worry but JHC is on fire and at present, is running Ainslie down the fleet, to use a familiar phrase.

So we as observers are taking this fairly seriously and wondering where it might lead. Well, that’s our job so don’t give us a hard time about it.  And bear with me when I try and explain what we have picked up.

We wrote on Sunday how Ainslie appeared relaxed and chirpy when we interviewed him post racing. We had taken our tin hats because we felt sure he would be worried by JHC’s stratospheric success but no.  He was so laid back we felt like we were stood at the bar waiting for him to stand us a round.

It was a bit weird to be honest and many of us commented on it.  Fast forward to same place same time next day when things had taken a turn for the worse and he had dropped to third place. But no.  In he came all smiley and calm and telling us he was angry at himself but showing few signs of being angry.

Blimey what’s going on, we asked. OK so this is where we are with that I replied. One of the reasons for his happy demeanour could be the woman in his life who is on hand to soothe his furrowed brow because she too is chasing down a gold medal in Weymouth. 

Marit Bouwmeister from the Nederlands has been his companion for a few months now and looks to help his mood rather than turn it a shade of grey. 

Growing contentment among sportsmen is a dangerous thing since it tenderises the competitive instincts. 

So whether it is Marit-induced or a function of his advancing years and experience, the sign that he might be mellowing is not necessarily good for Britain’s gold medal prospects though even with the edge taken off, Ainslie’s competitive instincts will be several grades sharper than the rest of us.

We couldn’t help but compare new kid on the Laser Radial block Alison Young now with Ainslie as he was at her age ten years ago. Hungry for success, almost  to the point of being feral  and so focussed that there was little option but to make life a narrow corridor of training, competition and a few protein shakes. 

That’s why Alison is destined for glory. And that’s why we should recalibrate our expectations of Ainslie and start celebrating his remarkable Olympic career..

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