Finn sailors around the world must have breathed a sigh of relief when Ben Ainslie hung up his hiking pads after squeaking that fourth gold medal at London 2012. When Sir Ben said that he was signing off from his glittering Olympic career to focus on the America’s Cup, there were times when I wondered if he would do a ‘Redgrave’ and make a comeback for Rio 2016. But Ben’s hopes and plans for his own Cup campaign seem to be coming together nicely and so we will see a new face representing Great Britain in the men’s heavyweight singlehander, a class that GBR has dominated since Iain Percy won the first of his gold medals at Sydney 2000.
So, who will be next? After seeing Giles Scott win the European Championships at La Rochelle by more than 50 points, Andrew Mills reckons he knows. For the past few years Andrew has been part of the phenomenally successful British Finn squad, and finished a very creditable 6th place in La Rochelle. Yet he has decided to retire at the age of 28, at the top of his game. It wasn’t an easy decision, but he was made an offer for a proper job in the City that he couldn’t refuse.
It all comes down to that ‘one sailor per country’ rule that governs selection for the Olympic Games. “I look at it in terms of what the British selectors would do. I think if the next two years went perfectly, I could reach a level somewhere near Giles. But for the selectors, they are going to say, ‘There's a guy who's been performing at this level for four or five years,’ or ‘This guy has been performing at this level for two years.’ I would expect they would choose Giles. I would do the same if I was the selector at that point.”
For Andrew, being part of such a strong British squad is a “double-edged sword”. He says: “I think the reason that we get such good results is somebody new comes in to the squad and immediately there are three, four guys in the top 10 in the world, and if you train with these people it brings you up to speed very quickly. The squad is a great fun place to be. I have been doing this for, I guess, six, seven years full-time. Mark Andrews and Giles Scott would be the ones I spent the most time with, they are very good friends and we had a good time. There's a good relationship which pushes each other on the water yet managing to be friends off the water. Some of the things that go on, on the water, you'd be amazed at, but everyone has the maturity to put it behind them. Two hours later, all best of friends on land! This allows you to push each other. On the water it’s every man for himself, but if you had a lot of enemies in the squad and you travelled around the world, you’d be pretty lonely.”
Andrew has run his sailing campaign based on the notion that hard work is definitely the more valuable asset than raw talent, yet ultimately he believes Giles has that something extra that he would be hard pushed to match had Andrew decided to continue in the Finn. “Giles can make a boat go exceptionally fast for reasons that you can't always tell. I think that comes down to very good feel and how he steers the boat, how he trims the boat. You can have your boat running at what you think is absolutely 100%. You think you couldn't get it to go any quicker and Giles would be at the same speed or sometimes a little bit quicker. He's got a little bit of something else that helps him make that boat go that bit faster, and you see that all the time in training and you become aware that it's quite hard to get past.”
Andrew has had some other amazing moments in his career, competing on the AC45s in the America’s Cup World Series, and breaking the Round the Island Race record last summer with Ben Ainslie on the AC45. With very few crew required for the AC62s and the number of teams looking limited for the next America’s Cup, however, he didn’t see many opportunities to make his way as a full-time professional in that world. But he fully intends to continue racing, and next on his agenda is racing the Etchells' World Championship in Newport, Rhode Island, with Nils Razmilovic and Brian Hammersley.
Meanwhile, he is looking forward to getting suited and booted for Citibank’s graduate programme. “Hopefully, in a couple of years, I'll be a trader in the City. My degree was based around that and it’s something that I find very interesting. I've always kept track of the markets whilst I've been sailing. For me it's incredibly exciting, I'm leaving one incredible lifestyle in sailing and campaigning, and moving into another. A lot of people think I'm moving into a boring office job, but in fact that’s something I am really looking forward to. I think you just miss the physical adrenalin rush of sailing. Buckets of water flying over your face...The adrenalin rush will be of a slightly different type. But being out in the elements - that’s the main thing I’ll miss about the sailing.”
Great to see Luke Patience and Stu Bithell throwing themselves into the Wilson Trophy, the sort of unofficial world championship of team racing. We don’t often see the Olympic stars get involved in the nitty gritty of the amateur dinghy racing scene, and who can blame them? Must be a bit of a busman’s holiday, going sailing in your spare time. So it’s nice to see it when it does happen, like Paul Goodison and Saskia Clark doing a bit of Essex dinghy racing last summer just weeks after London 2012, and now Luke and Stu getting stuck into team racing.
Any British sailing fan has known just how good Ben Ainslie is for a long time. Even so, watching him win his fourth gold at London 2012 still took my breath away. Question is, will any of that superhuman success ever give Ben a chance to take a leading man’s role in the America’s Cup?
Hard to imagine that it’s almost two years since London 2012 - which means it’s not much more than two years to Rio 2016. So the Princess Sofia Trophy in Palma was an interesting opportunity to gauge progress. What made it even more fascinating was just how varied the conditions were during the week, starting out light, finishing light, but with some big wind and waves in the middle of the regatta. The images from Palma were spectacular, and kudos to the incredible photographers who braved the conditions with thousands of pounds worth of equipment at risk. It reminds me of that Medal Race day at Qingdao 2008 when all hell broke loose. The supposedly sunny, light wind venue turned into Armageddon for that controversial, pitchpole-ridden 49er final, followed by Ben Ainslie (for he was not yet a knight of the realm) and his domination of the Finn Medal Race despite being the lightest sailor in the fleet.
Nine months in the making was too long, but maybe it was worth the wait. The Protocol for the 35th America’s Cup is not entirely fair, but Team Australia appear to have done a reasonable job in negotiating a decent bargaining position for the prospective challengers who want to compete against Oracle Team USA in summer 2017.
If you’re serious about getting the world to notice the America’s Cup, who better than the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for some wall-to-wall media coverage? That’s what Emirates Team New Zealand enjoyed recently during the royal visit downunder. Shame it wasn’t Sir Ben Ainslie who managed to get the royal visit, although his fledgling campaign seems to be moving along very nicely anyway.
Sir Ben Ainslie was the star attraction at the London Boat Show, where the four-time Olympic Champion sounded very positive about the prospects of mounting his own America’s Cup challenge. Ben, along with French star Franck Cammas, also told us his plans to race in the Extreme Sailing Series this season. With no Cup racing going on at the moment, the global cat racing circuit has given potential Cup challengers a playground to keep them occupied for the next year.
The 34th America’s Cup was great, and all the more so after what was the least competitive, most dull and least well attended Louis Vuitton Cup in its 30 year history. As I wrote three years ago, and three years before that, the last two Challengers of Record have not challenged at all, but rolled over to have their tummies tickled by the Defender. This time we’re hoping the new Challengers of Record, the Oatleys from Australia, will be less poodle and more bulldog.
I have barely drawn breath since Oracle’s stunning comeback on San Francisco Bay. A month later, it becomes increasingly clear that the 34th America’s Cup will go down as a classic. A defining moment in the event’s long history. But already for the sailors, the 34th Cup is ancient history as they try to make sense of an uncertain future...
After a summer of some of the most high-speed but dull racing the world never wanted to see, the America’s Cup Final delivered some of the most spectacular, unpredictable match racing in the event’s 162-year history. I thought the 2007 final between New Zealand and Alinghi was great. San Francisco 2013 was better.
The two races I witnessed of the Louis Vuitton Cup finals in San Francisco, I was fortunate to see two boats cross the finish line, both intact and still sailing. Until that point, the challenger finals had been a war of attrition, with a nosedive bringing the Kiwis precariously close to capsizing their usually impeccably sailed AC72, Aotearoa.
The death of Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson has been a huge wake-up call for the organisers of the America’s Cup who have been mounting an eleventh hour review of safety issues, things that should have been discussed and resolved after Oracle’s AC72 capsize last October. All too late for Bart, but let’s hope these safety proposals will avert further fatalities this summer.
As we reach the business end of this America’s Cup cycle, we find ourselves in the ‘phoney war’ of dissembling and misinformation. Four fast boats on or above the water, yet the news flow has dried to a trickle of Twitter comments. Don’t we, the fans, deserve better? No! This is ‘their’ Cup, and ‘they’ can do what they want.
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