An email conversation with Ben Ainslie: 'I'm very competitive when I'm in a boat and I want to win'

Getting revenge on Robert Scheidt; destroying a Laser 5000 at sea; Great Britain's America's Cup hopes
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I know you've mentioned it in the past, but just remind us again about the lowdown dirty trick Robert Scheidt played on you to win Laser gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and the ruthless tactic you employed to beat him four years later? Robert just used some aggressive tactics to make sure he won in '96. I learnt a lot from that experience and used slightly more aggressive tactics in 2000 to make sure I beat him. We were very evenly matched so it was only ever going to come down to a showdown like that, I'm just glad I managed to turn the tables.

Soon after the 2000 Sydney Olympics, while preparing for an informal race around Royal Victoria Dock to publicise a forthcoming event, your mate Iain Percy newly established Olympic Finn gold medallist looked across to the craft skippered by you and remarked: "There goes the most competitive man in the world..." Was he right? I'm very competitive when I'm in a boat and I want to win. Fortunately I'm not so competitive about other things in life.

Remind us of the time you and Percy embarrassed yourselves by destroying a boat at sea. How? When? Why? Iain and I were sailing a Laser 5000, a new class of boat which neither of us had sailed before. We wrecked the boat on Hayling Island sand bar and had to be rescued by the RNLI Inshore Lifeboat. It was quite tragic (for the boat especially) at the time but we both saw the funny side and certainly got a great round of applause from the people on the beach. Needless to say we didn't do that much more Laser 5000 sailing!

You missed this year's Finn class world championships in order to pursue your ambition of sailing in the America's Cup your boat, Emirates Team NZ lost in the final to the Swiss holder, Team Alinghi. Was it worth the sacrifice? What was it like being skippered by Grant Dalton? Nice and easy? Being a member of ETNZ was a great experience and a huge learning opportunity for me. It was a big disappointment to lose to Alinghi in the final as we had come so far as a team. Grant Dalton was a very entertaining guy to work for: I have never met anyone who is so direct but at least you knew where you stood with him and his work ethic was immense.

You have just been named helmsman and skipper of Team Origin, Britain's new challenger for the America's Cup. What are your chances? Are you excited? I'm very excited by Team Origin as we have put together an incredibly strong group of people in design, management and in the sailing team. We are under no illusions as to how big a challenge this is but we are all in this game to win and I believe we can do that.

This week you will seek to secure a place at a fourth consecutive Olympics when you race against your main domestic rival for the Finn class place, Ed Wright, in the Sydney Olympic classes regatta. How tough will it be, given you have only raced twice in the last two years? Sailing a Finn is always tough as it is a very physical boat! I am really enjoying being back in the smaller boats and training hard. Certainly the Olympic selection against Ed will be tough but I am very confident with my level of performance: I just need to make sure I perform on the day.

If you make it to Beijing to seek a third Olympic gold, how helpful will it be to you that both of those last two races took place on the Olympic course at Qingdao, and that you won them? It would be a big psychological boost to have won both of the test regattas in China. Right now I'm just concentrating on making sure I get there.

Would you see Spain's Rafa Trujillo Villar, who won the world title in your absence this year, as your most obvious rival? Not really, especially as Rafa is one of the bigger sailors and that doesn't help in the lighter winds we expect in China. The class is very open and if we raced the Olympics tomorrow then anyone of five sailors are good enough on their day.

You began sailing aged eight in Restronguet Creek, Cornwall. What has been your biggest lesson in the intervening years? The biggest lesson has been to trust my judgement whilst at the same time learn to accept other people's support and ideas.

You've won two Olympic golds and one silver. Do you ever wish you had been born a tennis player, a football player or even an athlete, where that level of success would have established you as a multi-millionaire? I am being successful in the sport I love, so I'm happy.

How do you relax? Do you, in fact, relax? I don't have much time off but I like to watch movies, read and play golf.

Are you a good swimmer? Does it matter? I'm not a good swimmer and that's probably why I became a good sailor!

Which football team do you support? And how on earth do you think England can qualify for the 2010 World Cup? I'm a Chelsea supporter, but I don't see to get much time to follow football that much at the moment. England can easily qualify for 2010: they have the talent, they just need some decent management bring on Fabio Capello!

Do you race boats in your dreams? Now and then.

Which three words best describe your character? Determined, resilient, patient.

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* Born: Macclesfield, 5 Feb 77.

* Began sailing aged four. First competition aged 10 in Restronguet Creek, Cornwall.

* Father Rodney took part in first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973.

* Won World Youth Championships in 1995. A year later, aged 19, he won Olympic silver in the Laser class, beaten by a piece of gamesmanship by eventual gold medallist Robert Scheidt. Had his revenge four years later, winning gold in Sydney. Switched to heavier Finn class for Athens Olympics and won gold to equal Rodney Pattison as Britain's most successful Olympic yachtsman.

* Seven times a world champion, he missed this year's event as he was helmsman for the Team NZ boat which lost the America's Cup to holders Team Alinghi of Switzerland.

* Named as skipper of British America's Cup challenger, Team Origin. Seeking a third Olympic title in Finn class next summer.

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