The first name to spring to mind as an Olympic prospect, yet Ainslie cannot rest on his laurels; competition in the Finn has never been greater.
There are two sides to Ben Ainslie. The public face is the quiet, moderately spoken, reserved, attentive, polite one. Ainslie in the spotlight exudes a confident, but modest persona, revealing little of the relentless pressure he’s under to perform his public and corporate commitments.
And then there’s the ruthless, competitive, single-minded side of his character that only his competitors ever see. His razor-sharp focus on the water is one of his strongest assets and is at the heart of his impressive list of victories. But this is also a side that he brings to bear on many other areas of his life.
Whether he’s in the gym, bench-pressing 107kg before breakfast as part of his daily routine, or working with his coach David Howlett on the plan for a day’s training, Ainslie’s absolute concentration on the task in hand is phenomenal. In competition he has just one setting: max. Regardless of whether he’s in the heat of battle or preparing for it, he wins by working harder and for longer than anyone else.
Living out of a kitbag, travelling from hotel to hotel around the world over the 280 days he spent sailing in 2010 is another example of his focus.
Ainslie knows he has work to do, not on his mental approach, but on his physique.
“The rules on free pumping in the Finn have changed and pumping is allowed under ten knots now, making the downwind legs physically punishing. For each 15-20-minute downwind section I’m working at my max heart rate of 185bpm for the entire leg. That’s the same, if not more, than I reach in the gym.” To change gear Ainslie has gone from an emaciated 78kg, required for the light winds of the last Olympics, to 94kg for 2012.
“It’s hard,” he says with a laugh, “and I feel like I’m killing myself doing this.”
Taking a break doesn’t come naturally to Ainslie, but when he does it’s simple activities that take precedence.
“I tend to put my feet up, watch films, meet friends and go for a drink,” he says in an almost sheepish way, before admitting to the odd round of golf.
But he also knows that to succeed in Weymouth in 2012 would make him the world’s most successful Olympic sailor. For Ainslie the challenge and the pressure have never been greater.