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Page last updated at 06:46 GMT, Thursday, 13 January 2011

Ben Ainslie 'devastated' by America's Cup withdrawal

Ben Ainslie

Ainslie 'devastated' by withdrawal

By Nick Hope
BBC Olympic Sports Reporter

Three-time Olympic champion Ben Ainslie says he is "devastated" by his team's withdrawal from the America's Cup.

Rule changes for the 2013 race were deemed "commercially unattractive" by Team Origin owner Sir Keith Mills.

"We've all invested so much effort and time and for that to count for nothing is very sad and frustrating for everybody involved," said Ainslie.

He also confirmed that the London Games would be his last Olympics in the Finn class, where he has twice won gold.

"I'm coming towards my sell-by date in terms of my Olympic career, especially in the Finn class which is so physically demanding," Ainslie told BBC Sport.

"Perhaps I could sail another boat, but at the moment I'm focusing entirely on qualifying for 2012.

I've had some ups and downs in my Olympic career, but this has definitely been the toughest period in my sailing career

Ben Ainslie

The three-time World Sailor of the Year developed his reputation sailing in the Laser class, avenging his silver medal behind arch-rival Robert Scheidt at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 with victory over the Brazilian in Sydney four years later.

He subsequently switched to the Finn, securing successive Olympic titles in Athens and then Beijing.

After the 2008 Olympics, Ainslie spent nearly two years away from the dinghy and focused on his other passion, match-racing and the America's Cup.

Speaking to BBC Sport last year, Ainslie told of his dream to lead Team Origin to victory and become the first British crew to claim the America's Cup in its 150-year history.

Ben Ainslie

Ben Ainslie wins 2010 ISAF Match-Racing World Championships

In winning the Monsoon Cup and claiming the 2010 Match-Racing World Championship Team Origin would have been considered among the favourites to challenge for the next America's Cup in 2013.

However, in September last year a host of radical rule changes were announced, with single-hull yachts - which Ainslie had been racing - ditched in favour of multihull wing-sail catamarans.

"I've had some ups and downs in my Olympic career, but this has definitely been the toughest period in my sailing career without a doubt," he admitted.

"It's incredibly frustrating, that the America's Cup has moved away from the area which guys like myself and my generation have been working towards for the last five to ten years.

"We've all put so much time and effort into getting the team into a position where we could be successful.

"Winning the World Championship was a great way for us to go out, but it's been incredibly difficult for us as a team to think that it is now all over."

Ainslie was due to take a break from match-racing in this year anyway and concentrate on qualification for the 2012 Olympics.

"In many ways I'm fortunate to have the Olympics as a goal as I can now spend all of my time focusing on achieving my dream of winning at a home Games," he said.

Despite his time away, Ainslie showed he had lost none of his class by claiming victory in the Finn at the Melbourne World Cup event in December.

With the rule changes allowing more aggressive sailing than before, I'm finding it hard to get back into the shape that I need to be in

Ben Ainslie

But reaching his fifth Games, where he hopes to claim a fourth gold medal, will not be straightforward.

Great Britain can select only one sailor to compete in each Olympic class and Ainslie has two strong challengers in the form of 2010 Finn world champion Ed Wright and 23-year-old Giles Scott who beat both Ainslie and Wright at last year's Sail for Gold Regatta in Portland and Weymouth.

"It's going to be really tight in terms of the qualification with Ed and Giles doing so well whilst I've been away, but I predict it's going to be a great fight between the three of us, which I can hopefully come through on top of," said Ainslie.

December's World Championships in Perth, Australia, will be important for sailors in many of the Olympic disciplines, but Ainslie is focusing on June's event at the 2012 sailing venue of Portland and Weymouth.

"The Sail for Gold Regatta is really key for us in terms of the pecking order as it will be used towards qualifying for the Olympics, so I need to peak for that," he continued.

"Hopefully with strong performances this year I can look forward to 2012."

Watch Ainslie in action at the 2010 Round the Island race

Ainslie will be 35 when the Games begin and claims he is already feeling the physical effects of an increasingly demanding fleet.

"I've been out of the boat now for a solid two years and with the rule changes allowing more aggressive sailing than before, I'm finding it hard to get back into the shape that I need to be in," he admitted.

"The guys who have been doing it full-time are incredibly fit. Sailing in the bigger boats and just steering is nowhere near as physical, so for me there's a lot of work that I need to do in the gym, but I enjoy the challenge.

Ainslie has been linked with a move into the Star dinghy where older sailors such as 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medallists and 2010 world champions Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson have excelled.


However, at present it is one of the fleets due to be removed from the Olympic programme for the 2016 Rio Games.

"In days gone by I think the Star would have been a perfect boat for someone like myself to move into," said Ainslie.

"At the moment it's not possible, but that may still change, which would give me another option."

A return to match-racing, where Ainslie became the world number one skipper last year, would be the most likely outcome but he is unlikely to make a clear decision until after the 2012 Olympics.

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see also
GB secure three World Cup golds
18 Dec 10 |  Sailing
Ben Ainslie tops sailing rankings
08 Dec 10 |  Sailing
Ainslie wins world championship
05 Dec 10 |  Sailing
Team Origin opt out of 2013 Cup
01 Oct 10 |  Sailing
America's Cup scheduled for 2013
14 Sep 10 |  Sailing

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