Sailing: Ainslie in strife on the ocean waves

Walking slowly through the breakfast room of the luxury hotel overlooking the picture-postcard harbour resort on the island of Elba, Ben Ainslie could just about raise a weak smile.

Walking slowly through the breakfast room of the luxury hotel overlooking the picture-postcard harbour resort on the island of Elba, Ben Ainslie could just about raise a weak smile. It is unlikely that any of the staff knew they were watching a man with two gold and one silver Olympic medals, one of the finest natural talents in the world, a man acknowledged by the peer group all around him as very special.

Ben Ainslie is 28, and would be seen by most as having a glittering future, but his world, which is now the Emirates Team New Zealand America's Cup challenge, is in turmoil. The short-term cause of the hunched shoulders was the frustrating disappointment of the way he had tumbled out of the Toscana Elba Cup, the opening event in Europe of this season's Swedish Match tour.

But the real problems are much deeper-rooted. By way of contrast here, Ainslie's friend and fellow gold-medallist Iain Percy, who has also followed the America's Cup trail as skipper of +39, one of three Italian challengers, was upbeat about finishing sixth in a talent-packed field. As apprenticeships go, Italian-style is proving sunnier than Kiwi-style.

Ainslie is a complex character. His success had been as a single-handed sailor, where he thrives on intensity and self-sacrifice and prospers from near-genius ability. On shore he is shy, diffident, unassuming. On the water he is ruthless, and can succumb to explosive temper.

In his new world he has to work within a team, and he has found that difficult before. He joined the OneWorld challenge for the America's Cup in Auckland in 2002-03 but found himself marginalised. After leaving, he confined his reflections to saying it had been tough, but a great learning experience.

He went back to Olympic sailing, where he could run his own programme, make his own decisions, and his results demanded he be given the job he wanted. Now, he says: "Have I made life more difficult? Of all the options, this was probably the hardest. I used to set my own goals. Now it's hard for me to set the goals."

What he does know is that he will not be helming the New Zealand A boat this year, that he will probably not even be on the bench for the event itself in 2007, and that he even has to share the helming of the tune-up boat with someone else, Kelvin Harrap. The match-race circuit he is now on is quite glamorous, but that has no appeal. "That's not why I sail, and I don't give a toss about five-star hotels," he says. "I want to win."

Learning to lead will always, for him, be a matter of example rather than political manoeuvring. He is too honest to be a politician.

He has a strong belief in his own ability, but has surrendered the control of his own destiny. He knows that his boss, the blunt-talking Grant Dalton, has just about decided that the incumbent helmsman and skipper Dean Barker, who naturally wants to protect his own position, will stay in the job, and Ainslie is not allowed to switch to another syndicate. So he must soldier on for two years, by which time he will be 30. You cannot be a starlet at 30. But hope triumphs over reality. "Grant says I am not good enough, and I say I have got two years to prove you wrong," he says.

Asked to choose just one prize from this season: to win the Finn European Championship, to achieve a top-three overall on the match-racing circuit, or to helm New Zealand's A boat in a warm-up regatta, there is no hesitation. "Definitely, helm TNZ at an AC regatta," he says. "That's the goal. It's the America's Cup."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee