Ainslie’s goal: win Britain its first Cup

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His appetite for gold sated, England’s Ben Ainslie is retiring from Olympic sailing, where he has won more medals than any other sailor, to pursue silver: the Auld Mug.

Ben Ainslie was a gold medalist in four consecutive Olympic Games.

Yes, the America’s Cup. Ainslie, 35, has won four consecutive Olympic gold medals — one in the Laser in Sydney 2000 and three in the Finn in Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012 — on top of a silver in the Laser in Atlanta 1996. When he won gold in London, Ainslie surpassed Danish sailor Paul Elvstrøm in the medal count. Elvstrøm also won four golds — the first in a Firefly and the others in Finns, from 1948 to 1960 — but no silver.

Ainslie’s retirement marks the “start of a new chapter in his career as he now shifts his focus to winning the America’s Cup and bringing the oldest trophy in sport back to Britain,” according to a November posting on www.BenAinslie.com.

Conceived by the British and first awarded to the schooner America for a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851, the Cup has never been held by the British. In fact, it is the only international sporting trophy that Great Britain has never won, Ainslie says. He aims to change that.

During the next 10 months, Ainslie will train and compete with the America’s Cup defenders, Oracle Team USA, in San Francisco, where he probably will helm one of two AC72s in the run-up to the 34th America’s Cup in September. In January 2012, with Oracle’s backing, he formed JP Morgan Ben Ainslie Racing, which is sailing a $1 million AC45 in the America’s Cup World Series in the lead-up to Cup competition next fall — great experience for his Cup objective.

Ainslie is no stranger to the America’s Cup. He was involved with the U.S. syndicate OneWorld in 2003, backed up helmsman Dean Barker on Team New Zealand in the 2007 Cup and was involved with Great Britain’s Team Origin, which failed to attract enough sponsorship to compete in 2013. A four-year campaign can cost $100 million.

“The America’s Cup has always been a goal for me,” Ainslie says on his website. “With the new format of the America’s Cup World Series and the increased commercialization of the event, I feel confident we can continue to build toward creating a commercially viable team, with the ultimate goal of challenging for the 35th America’s Cup.”

The British sailing establishment is standing foursquare behind their hero’s decision to leave small boats and run with the big dogs. “Ben has always made it clear that his two career goals have been to win Olympic gold and to win the America’s Cup,” John Derbyshire, the Royal Yachting Association’s performance director, says on Ainslie’s website. “With four Olympic golds and a silver across five Games, and now the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, he has nothing left to prove in Olympic terms. … It’s therefore entirely understandable that he should now want to turn his attentions to the second and hopefully lead a British team to win the oldest trophy in sport for the very first time.”

Ainslie has set his sights on the America's Cup and the wingsail catamaran that will be used for the regatta.

Ainslie said in January 2012, when he started racing the AC45, that he hadn’t decided whether to retire from the Olympics. After announcing his retirement in November he said he might have considered another Olympic run if the Star Class had been reinstated for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games. He says the greater physical demands of the Finn were too much for a body — his back, in particular — that was feeling the pain of years of hard sailing.

Ainslie’s father, Roddy, skippered the yacht Second Life in the first Whitbread Round the World Race, 1973-74, and passed on his love of sailing to his son, who began sailing at the age of 7. He is a three-time world sailor of the year and has won 10 sailing world championships and nine European championships.

“Sad to be announcing Olympic retirement, but it’s been a great ride, and I have to say a huge thanks to all those who helped make it possible,” Ainslie tweeted Nov. 26.

February 2013 issue