Saturday, 4 August 2012

Is Ainslie set to quit Olympic sailing?

OK so I have no confirmation of this and he always trots out the ‘never say never’ line when asked about it but my instinct is that Ben Ainslie will quit Olympic sailing after Sunday's sensational showdown at London 2012 with Jonas Hoegh-Christensen from Denmark.

Let me explain why. He has made no secret of the fact he has found the physical demands of Finn training and racing incredibly hard in this Olympic cycle. The introduction of free downwind pumping in the class has made a massive difference to the fitness levels these guys need to consistently win races at this level.

Ainslie has an aggressive style of pumping – just watching him wears me out frankly. And when you hear Rebecca Adlington say at the age of 23, she can no longer compete seriously with the 15 and 16 year olds coming through, you realise how tricky it must be for the 35 year-old Ainslie to match the strapping young talent in the Finn class. 

 To say he has worked bloody hard is an understatement. He has been grinding away on the treadmill day after day after day since late 2010 when Keith Mills revealed he was disbanding his America’s Cup syndicate Team Origin.

That decision while gut wrenching, freed him up for the gym and from that point, Ainslie who was seriously underweight and underfit for the Finns, devoted his waking hours to beefing up every physiology element that could be measured.   

He is now around 15 kgs heavier than he was then – but still quite slight for a Finn sailor – which has been vital to his campaign for gold, especially in the stronger Weymouth breezes.

The chances of him wanting to do all that again, when the incredibly talented Giles Scott is waiting in the wings, are nil. And besides, getting his fourth gold medal in front of a British crowd would have meant EVERYTHING to this fiercely patriotic bloke. 

As a script, it could not have been written better and his final Olympic chapter will make a belter of a climax. A postscript in Rio 2016 might prove woefully limp as a wrap!

He has also laid the foundations for the next phase of his career and will be off as soon as the Olympics are over to get started. No professional sailing career is complete without a win in the America’s Cup and although the event is not so coveted as it once was, Ainslie is intent on having the Auld Mug in his massive trophy cabinet.

It will take a lot of effort and support and money and although his Ben Ainslie Racing campaign has been launched, he needs some big sponsorship bucks to make it successful . That will become his priority and will fill every waking hour. He will also need to get up to speed on the AC45s – his multihull experience has been limited – but that won’t take long for someone of his remarkable talents.

With a fourth gold medal to add to the silver from Atlanta, he will become the greatest Olympic sailor in history, which reflects those remarkable talents and 20 years of sacrifice, effort and endeavour.

It is difficult to think of one reason why he would continue in Olympic sailing and in some ways, it is surprising he has not announced his retirement already but then, you can see why he would want to keep his options open.  

He is the most marketable commodity in British sailing, perhaps in world sailing, and it would be daft to pass up any opportunity to add to his growing fortune. He may want another Aston Martin in the near future and do away with his trusty Volvo, you never know.  

His interests outside of sailing are growing too. He has taken up flying and wants to get his pilot’s licence and is mad for motor racing. With his intensive gym programme tapered, he can devote more time to these leisurely activities though it difficult to see them taking over.

And of course he wants a family and they don’t happen by magic so that too will take up time. His type of Olympic obsession excludes normal activities but the years are passing and so perhaps are the opportunities for a match made in heaven. Many men have had two wives by the time they are 35 for heaven’s sake.

But I’m probably wrong about all of this. It has been known.

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