Podium reporter Stuart Appleby interviews three-time Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie. The Team GB sailor, who is in line to compete in London this summer (in what would be his fifth Olympic Games), first rose through the ranks as a promising junior in the early 1990s and studied at Peter Symonds College in Winchester at the same time.
Ben Ainslie backs Further and Higher Education to provide a springboard to success
Three-time Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie CBE is one of Great Britain’s most decorated athletes of all time. The sailor, who is in line to compete in London (in what would be his fifth Olympic Games), first rose through the ranks as a promising junior in the early 1990s and studied at Peter Symonds College, Winchester, at the same time.
Ainslie’s sailing career began at the age of eight with his family in Restronguet, Cornwall. His father, Roddy, was a sailor who skippered ‘Second Life’ in the first Whitbread Round the World Race of 1973-74.
With the help and support of both his parents, Ainslie started to compete and win tournaments throughout his teenage years, as he was already Laser Radial World Champion by the age of 16. He soon went onto win his first Olympic medal – silver in the Laser Class at the 1996 Atlanta Games, whilst continuing to study at Peter Symonds Sixth Form College.
“The trade off between studying at college, training and preparing for sailing was always a bit of a battle. I had to be pretty focused and dedicated by working hard on all fronts.
“At the time, it did not leave a huge amount of time for much else in my life, but I was happy. I had to make the decision to stop college for a short period to concentrate on the Olympics, before returning to finish off my exams,” the 34-year-old said.
“As an athlete you need a huge amount of support both financially and emotionally. It takes a lot of understanding from both parties, but for people to do both at the highest level is fantastic. They need to be flexible so they can fit in their training around important competitions.
“For example, the Brownlee brothers are combining the two now. It is enough of a sacrifice training full time in a sport like Triathlon as there are many different elements to it, but to be continuing with their studies as well is very impressive. It shows a lot of determination that they are able to do that and I think it is the right call as well.
“Looking to the future, I think it gives them the opportunities further on in life to do other things and also they are competing in sport for the right reasons, instead of looking at it from a career point of view.”
After completing his studies, Ainslie continued to succeed in sailing, winning the Olympic gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Games (again in the Laser). Following his second Olympic triumph, he participated in the ‘One World Challenge’ America’s Cup campaign, before returning to Olympic sailing.
Ainslie then switched classes from the Laser to the Finn Class (meaning he had to increase his body weight by 15 kilos to achieve the optimum weight for the larger Finn Class) and he reaped the rewards.
A second gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games in the larger Finn Class followed, before he repeated that same feat four years later in Beijing (2008). His third consecutive gold medal meant he surpassed British sailor Rodney Pattison’s record of two gold and one silver Olympic medals to become Britain’s most successful sailor of all time.
Ainslie, who is also an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, has encouraged young people to get involved as much as possible at the London 2012 Games.
“I think young people should make the most out of the opportunities that are on offer. It is not going to come round again for a long, long time and I would encourage people to grasp it, embrace it and really enjoy the atmosphere.”
The nine-time World and European champion revealed that his own preparations are going well for the Games, as he bids to win a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal.
“My training is going very well. In terms of my day to day routine, it is a mixture between sailing on the water to improve my skills there, developing and tweaking boat equipment to improve performance and fitness training on land.
“I do a mixture of weight training to control the body rate and aerobic work to make sure I have the endurance to compete at the top level.”