Close to the Wind, by Ben Ainslie

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The Independent Culture

In most sporting contests the plan is to win, but in Ben Ainslie's most memorable race he made no attempt to do so, finishing halfway down the Laser fleet in the final race at the Sydney Olympics.

The method in this apparent madness was that, due to the scoring system, his best chance of claiming gold was to smother the chances of his nearest rival, Brazilian Robert Scheidt.

Mission accomplished (just), he won further golds at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, but he starts his autobiography with a blow-by-blow account of that Sydney confrontation. Rightly so, because it encapsulates his personality: pleasant and unassuming off the water, ruthless on it.

There are no great revelations here, unless you count the fact that Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell insists on calling him "Matthew" every time they meet, but it's an interesting self-portrait.

Ainslie plans to compete at the 2012 Olympics (when he will be 35) and, as skipper of the TeamOrigin challenge, yearns to wrest the America's Cup back for Britain. It's been 158 years but with Ainslie at the helm, don't bet against it.

Published in hardback by Yellow Jersey, £18.99