Giles Scott: 'Ainslie's achievements inspired me – now we're rivals for a Games berth'
My road to 2012: Sailor must beat his one-time hero Ben Ainslie to claim the sole Finn class spot next year
Sailing for Britain beyond the shadow of Ben Ainslie's achievements is a difficult task. It is even harder for Giles Scott, who was just 13 years old when Ainslie won his first gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But Scott now finds himself in direct competition with the man he describes as a "hero-like figure". He beat Ainslie at the Miami World Cup regatta in the Finn class last month, and will surely have to do so again to qualify for the Olympics; Britain can select only one sailor to compete in each Olympic class, and so Scott is in direct competition with Ainslie for a single berth.
Not that he sees it as anything personal, though. When asked if he is motivated by the prospect of taking down the famous Ainslie, Scott respectfully insisted otherwise. "I'm not sure I am motivated by knocking Ben off his perch. I am more motivated by qualifying for the Games and then being successful there. My sights aren't set on Ainslie, they're set on the Olympics." But, with Ainslie victorious in the Finn class in the past two Olympics, it might be difficult to separate the two tasks. To compete in Weymouth next year he will have to get past the current champion, which, if it came to it, "would feel pretty good, strange" said Scott, "but that's what I'm trying to do".
To compete against Ainslie at all will be strange for someone who has looked up to the three-time gold medallist through his career. "Yes, I am close to Ben," Scott acknowledged, "so competing with him would be quite odd. He has been doing it for so, so long, he won his first [gold] medal when I was 12 or 13. He was very distant, a hero-like figure when I first started racing, but now he's become a friend and a competitor. His achievements have inspired me."
Scott's respect for Ainslie is such that he went to the sailing in Qingdao three years ago to cheer him on, as qualifying for the Games appeared beyond him at the time. "It was never on the cards for me, really, as I was still at university. I got out to Qingdao as a cheering partner, and I went for a month in build-up training with Ben, but it was never going to happen."
Part of Scott's maturing as a sailor has been his elevation from Laser to Finn class. This was a transition Scott made at a much younger age than Ainslie. Despite it bringing him into direct competition with his mentor, he does not regret the switch. "I haven't looked back since I moved."
Should Scott qualify, he anticipates a home advantage based on knowledge of the conditions rather than a partisan crowd. "Home advantage is still there, but in a different way. You're depending on what you know about your surroundings, so you can get advantage from sailing in a venue you've trained in for 10 years. It does have its advantages. It's how the wind comes around, it's certain land features. You know what to expect a little bit more, you've seen it all before."
With the sailing out in Weymouth, it might be possible that the sailors would feel separated from the Olympic spirit. But Scott is confident of a "big Olympic feeling" throughout the year, even from the sailing base in Weymouth. "I can't imagine feeling otherwise."
Giles Scott is sponsored by investment specialist Skandia and sails as part of Skandia Team GBR, Britain's sailing team in the Olympic and Paralympic classes. For more information go to www.skandiateamgbr.com
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