By Matthew O'Connor

WITH the Princess Sofia and Copa del Rey sailing regattas in the very near future the island is starting to get swamped with sailors from all around the world. Glancing out at the sea from Palma you may have seen some of the British Olympic squad preparing for next year's Olympic Games. You may also have seen some of them milling around the Cala Nova Olympic sailing centre or pumping weights at the Elite Gym in San Agustin. On the other side of Palma, down in Arenal, training every day in a bid to win a third consecutive Olympic medal for Britain is Sydney Olympic Laser gold medallist Ben Ainslie. Majorca is proving an ideal base for Ainslie to prepare for events such as this year's World Championships in Cadiz as well as next summer's Athens Olympic Games. “The RYA (Royal Yachting Association) has sorted out an arrangement where we can stay in Cala Nova. It really works out well because the accommodation is close to where the boats are kept and there's gym facilities and everything. It's a lot different to when I was young when we had to train in the freezing cold and sleet. It's much more productive to be training in this sort of climate in the winter. We generally get the strong northerly breezes or medium sea breeze here so it's really perfect for what we're trying to do.” What Ainslie is trying to do is win his second Olympic gold medal in Athens. Next week's Princess Sofia regatta is crucial to his preparations. “It's an important event for most of the British team in the different Olympic classes because it counts as one of the qualifying events to make the Olympic regatta to then qualify for Athens. I'm chasing only one spot for Athens so it makes it extremely important to compete well here.” The 26 year-old is not your typical Olympic gold medallist. There is none of the brashness normally associated with a sportsman who usually needs a massive ego to win Olympic gold. Ainslie seems somewhat shy and timid, yet that's obviously not the case when he steps into a boat. The Macclesfield-born lad is best remembered for his classic Olympic showdowns with Robert Scheidt of Brazil. At the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 Ainslie, then just 19, took silver to Scheidt's gold. The places were reversed in Sydney four years later. As with all elite sportsmen motivation plays an important part of his life. After winning silver in 1996 he was even more motivated to win the gold in 2000. Having now conquered the world of Laser he has recently sought fresh impetus and turned his hand to Finn class, something that meant having to put on over a stone in weight. “I really wanted a new challenge. Also the Finn is a development boat so you can change the equipment. With a Laser it's all standard equipment, but with the Finn you can have your own design mast, sail, whatever. So there's that technical challenge which also helps for moving into bigger boats. “Also I'd put on a bit of weight doing the America's Cup so I was too heavy for the Laser. I could have lost the weight but I thought I'd put on more weight instead! It's turned out to be quite hard because I've had to put on another twelve kilos. The ideal weight for a Finn is around 100 kilos while for a Laser it's around 80 kilos. “Obviously I've had to eat a lot more and do lots of weight training, but it's another focus for me and another motivation.” Ainslie, who was given his first boat as a Christmas present from his parents, took to Finn like the proverbial duck to water. After only six months in the class he had won the Europeans and the Finn Gold Cup, and then the 2002 Athens Test Event leaving the more experienced Finn sailors in his wake. “Last year was my first year in Finns and it went surprisingly well. I was aiming to start off and move progressively through the fleet by Athens. Now though I've got to stay at the top for a couple of years which will be very tough. “Everyone has their own individual training programme so it'll be interesting at this event (Princess Sofia) to see where everyone is at.” That preparation for Athens, as well as qualifying events, means spending a long time away from home. “The big competition for me this year is the World Championships in Cadiz in September which I can qualify for the Olympics without having to do the trials back in the UK. That would really help so I can focus on preparing for Athens. “If I do qualify then I'll probably spend the winter training out there in Greece.” Having won Olympic gold already Ainslie is safe in the knowledge that no one can ever take that away from him. That may be one reason for his future goals. Most people would see winning an Olympic gold medal as a lifetime achievement, and while Ainslie obviously wants to win gold again in Athens, he is also eyeing up America's Cup glory. Even if it means having to adapt to a bigger boat and a team situation. “I spent a year with the OneWorld Challenge based in Seattle and it was a huge learning experience to be part of such a big team. But it didn't really work out how I wanted it to and I ended up getting quite frustrated in terms of the sailing. I had no experience of the team but I was hoping I'd get a chance to be helmsman at some stage, but I never really got that opportunity and that was frustrating. So I decided it wasn't the right thing for me to be doing any more and I wanted to give myself enough time to get back into things before Athens. “From going from doing everything in a Laser to concentrating on just one thing was very strange. I really enjoyed the team climate though and trying to get the best out of everyone was great, but it still got very frustrating at times.” Even though a veteran of Olympic sailing, Ainslie is still very young, something that will surely mean his dream of winning the America's Cup is a possibility. Judging by his past achievements and his obvious determination it would surely not surprise anyone in the sailing world if that dream became reality. “I'm still quite young and as opposed to other sports we're quite lucky. As you move into keel boats you can still be competitive into your forties. The main thing I want to do after Athens is get back into the America's Cup especially with a British team. We had a challenge last time but it really seems to have petered out and you really need to keep the ball rolling. It's never going to win it the first time, you need two of three goes at it. “It's definitely a long term goal. Half of the problem is getting it set up and then getting the personnel and sponsors. It's mainly money. You ideally need a budget of around 80 million pounds so it's a lot of money that needs to be found. Britain has enough good sailors, but that's not the issue, it's getting them all together and also the design of the boat is extremely important.” With Majorca in with a chance of hosting the next America's Cup what are the chances of seeing Ainslie sailing his way to victory in the Bay of Palma? “I think Palma would be a fantastic place to host it if it was the right time of year, For instance in the summer it's very hot and there's not much wind. A time when the climate's right and there's a good breeze would be ideal. It's certainly got the infrastructure and it's quite an accessible place and obviously people enjoy coming here not just for sailing. So to have that as an added bonus would be great for the island and would probably be great for the America's Cup as well. “However, there are other sites as well and I've heard because (Alinghi team owner) Ernesto Bertarelli is Italian he wants it in Italy.” Having been to two Olympic Games it is not surprising Ainslie has a view on a proposed bid by London for the 2012 Games. “I think it would be great. People talk about the feel good factor and we definitely experienced that in Sydney. We spent two years there training beforehand and it was amazing the change of the locals' attitude to the Games. In the beginning they were a bit irritable, they were having their local parks dug up and couldn't walk their dogs and were pretty up in arms about it. Then slowly as it got closer and closer to the Games you could see the change in attitude and everyone got behind it. “For London to be successful the government would have to put a lot of money behind it to make it work. The British people are definitely nationalistic and proud so would support it all the way, but the issue is will the government get behind it. They would have to support a bid 100 percent otherwise they wouldn't even get it. If they did though and London won the bid then I'm sure it would be fantastic.”


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