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ONELIFE #33 – American English

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BEN AINSLIE To many Ben Ainslie is the most successful sailor in history winning four gold medals at consecutive games from Sydney to London via Athens and Beijing. There is also a silver from his first games in Atlanta, but we don’t like to talk about that. He’s won 11 World Sailing Championships and has been crowned World Sailor of the Year a record four times. In recognition of his services to sailing he’s been awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE), a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) and a knighthood. So yes, there are awards and accolades by the dozen and lots of letters after his name, but if I told you this particular sporting superstar keeps his multiple medals in his wife’s old make-up bag, his numerous trophies in a box in the cellar and can’t remember where he last saw his honors, then that might provide a more complete picture of the man who is wired to win sailing races, the man I get to call my husband, Ben. As a sports journalist I have interviewed many sportsmen and women over the years in my career and there is a common denominator that unites them all. You might find it interesting to know that it isn’t the desire to win that drives them or Ben, but the fear of failure. My husband is determined not to lose, ever. Next year he will embark on the biggest challenge of his career yet. He will aim to bring home the world’s oldest sporting trophy, the America’s Cup, back to Britain with his recently formed sailing team Land Rover BAR. He knows the size of the task is enormous. No British team has been able to win the Cup in its 165-year history. The chances of a first time team being able to steal such a prize from the clutches of the defender Team USA are slim, but then again this is Ben we are talking about and losing is not in his vocabulary. Let me tell you what happened last time the America’s Cup was contested, as I saw it. By the time the Cup came round in the summer of 2013, Ben and I had been dating just a few months. I was living in New York working for Fox Sports and Ben was in San Francisco, ‘B’ boat helming for Team USA. He’s not good at being reserved over anything, so the cross-country phone calls and visits we shared often came hand in hand with long conversations about how to best manage the situation he found himself in. Clearly he wsas struggling with an incredible part of his career coming to an end and having to play second fiddle to another skippering the Team USA boat. He was on the bench and he didn’t like it. Then the racing began and things went from bad to worse for the American team. Five points down the owner had seen enough and ran the changes. Ben called me that night to say he was on the race boat. After that came what’s now referred to as one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time, as the Team USA boat turned around an 8-1 deficit to win the America’s Cup 9-8. That decision to put Ben on the boat ultimately changed both of our lives. We had to think fast as the offers came in. We were enjoying our American existence, out of the glare of the British media our relationship was going brilliantly, but it was still early days and my work in the States was starting to gather momentum. Perhaps I should say we thought “ THE MOOD WENT long and hard about what R A P I D L Y D O W N H I L L to do next, but the truth is it was much easier than that. R E C E N T L Y W H E N I We were lucky. We both wanted the same thing; to W A S B E A T I N G H I M be together, put roots down, AT TABLE TENNIS” have a family and be able to determine our own future. GEORGIE AINSLIE Going back to Britain and setting up Land Rover BAR was always going to be much harder work than banking a big pay check and staying Stateside, but for us it felt like the only thing to do. A couple of years later, we are in Portsmouth preparing to battle and beat the one team that made all of this possible for us in the first place, Team USA in the 35th America’s Cup. Only sport can write storylines like this one and of course the fairytale ending would be if we could bring the Cup home. Watching Ben try I’m aware of how much he has grown as part of this process. It can’t have been easy and I know he’s had to adapt greatly from being a single-handed sailor focused solely on himself and his own performances to team builder, player and leader running a business of 140-plus 30

PHOTO JACK BROCKWAY/HIJACK people. People have often commented on his Jekyll and Hyde-like character, the fierce competitor on the water and the humble gentleman off it, but I think as time goes on the two are morphing as his confidence grows off the water as well as on it. The competitor is omnipresent regardless. A game of table tennis last week on vacation between Ben and me rapidly went downhill in tone as I started clocking up a decent lead. The red mist descended, the eyes rolled back and despite his protestations that he was perfectly happy with his wife winning a silly game of ping-pong, the look on his face at match point to me said otherwise. For my part I have learned to live with and love this most complex of character traits. You don’t get to achieve what Ben has by being straightforward and I have my own challenge in supporting him. When we board the plane to Bermuda in November, moving house and country for the third time in as many years, the contrast between how Ben won the 34th America’s Cup and how he will try to win the 35th couldn’t be greater. This time out he’ll have a wife, our baby Bellatrix and our two dogs Biggles and Ginger in tow. I’d like to think his family will keep him sane and give him perspective when the going gets tough, which inevitably it will as the countdown to the Cup approaches. There’s nothing like a baby needing burping or a paddle boarding excursion with a dachshund to transport the mind away from issues at the office, but it would be naive of me to think that sailing isn’t on his mind 24/7. Whenever Ben has a spare moment at home he takes himself off to his study, he closes the door and he watches past races over and over again working out what he and the team could have done differently, better. Sometimes he can sit at his desk for hours, analyzing, assessing, obsessing, working out how to win. On the days when he looks like he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders I part jokingly call him ‘Atlas’, and it’s true to say with so many people expecting so much of him there are a few too many sleepless nights where I know he’s wondering how to deliver. I often get asked if I worry watching Ben race but the answer is always the same: never. If you were to ask me if I worry when he doesn’t win, well then that’s a different story. Clockwise from below right: Ben with the America’s Cup after victory in 2013, Ben, Georgie and new arrival Bellatrix, and a rare shot of Ben with a silver medal 31

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