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The future's bright for Ben Ainslie

  • Story Highlights
  • Ben Ainslie has won three Olympic gold medals and one silver
  • At 31, Ainslie is working towards an America's Cup and the 2012 Games
  • He says his training for the Beijing Games was some of his toughest ever
  • Ainslie could move to Star class if he is still competing in the 2016 Olympics
  • Next Article in World Sport »
By Mike Steere
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- It's the America's Cup Jubilee sailing regatta of 2001 and a giant 90 foot Maxi ploughs into another 90 foot Maxi causing some seriously expensive damage.

Golden moment: British sailor Ben Ainslie celebrates his gold medal in the Finn Class at the Beijing Games.

Who's the man at the helm? None other than three-time Olympic sailing gold medalist Ben Ainslie.

"And it was kind of my fault too," Ainslie laughs, before leveling and revealing it was one of the most sickening feelings he has ever experienced.

That incident aside, the Briton's career makes for an exceptional highlights reel.

He's claimed five world titles, twice been named world "Sailor of the Year," and four times taken out the British "Yachtsman of the Year" award, making him one of the most formidable sailors of the modern era.

Add those three Olympic golds and an Olympic silver which span two classes of racing and you realize: Ainslie is a freak.

After recently claiming the third of his Olympic golds at the Beijing Games, the 31-year-old is showing no signs of letting his sailing career slow down.

I caught up with Ainslie to find out what sort of preparation he went through for the physically-demanding Finn class at Beijing, what he has been doing since the Games, and whether there are plans for more gold medals in coming years.

Ainslie told CNN he's already planning for the future, although, he said it is always difficult to move on from an Olympic Games.

"The Olympic Games is such a special event. So, to come home and have got the job done was amazing. However, there's a bit of a void after the Games. You have to get back down to normality and doing your usual things.

"This year I did some racing in Sardinia. It wasn't like Olympic standards or anything, but it was good to get out and do something different," he said.

And there is an extensive physical recovery required for Ainslie too. He said the training before this year's Games was some of the hardest work he had ever put in.

"Before the Games it was pretty intense. All of the competitors lost quite a bit of weight in the lead up to the Games. There was a lot of work done on the equipment and then training on the waters themselves," Ainslie said.

For Ainslie, training was five or six days per week with long sessions on and off the water. The weight loss was important due to the light wind conditions off Qingdao, where the Olympic regatta was held, he said.

Ainslie said an average day before the Games involved an aerobic fitness session of up to 90 minutes, full gear and equipment checks, up to five hours out on the water, and then a weight session at home.

After such an intensive preparation Ainslie was a huge favorite for the Finn class, yet, he said he never believed it.

"A lot of people had been talking about that ... but in reality I knew how difficult it was. I knew the conditions would be difficult and there's not much between the top competitors," he said.

Having had a chance to put this success, along with his long list of achievements, into perspective, I was keen to ask why he is better than the rest.

According to a very modest Ainslie, it has been his support networks.

"I have fantastic support from my parents, sailing organizations and my sponsors.

"If you have the right backing financially and in terms of logistical and personal support then you are in a good place to prepare and then it just comes down to doing the right training and putting in enough work to get ready," Ainslie said.

It's not just success that characterizes Ainslie's career; diversity has also been a large part of it.

He told CNN his stint with Team New Zealand in the America's Cup was a fantastic experience from which he learned a great deal for Olympic-class racing.

"For me it was like doing a university degree in America's Cup sailing -- with such a talented squad of sailors."

And it's this aspect of change and diversifying which Ainslie looks set to carry into the future.

He's been signed up to skipper Britain's newly-formed America's Cup challenge, Team Origin (when the Cup gets out of the courtroom and back on the water).

With Volvo Ocean Race winning skipper Mike Sanderson named as the team's head, the squad looks set to be one of Britain's strongest teams ever to contest the "Auld Mug."

Outside of the America's Cup there is also a potential for Ainslie to move into a different Olympic class.

"When I was 17 the Laser class became an Olympic class. Back then that was a very clear line for me to set my sights on getting to the Olympics."

He did that, but, after a silver and gold, he decided it was time for a new challenge.

Enter: the Finn class.

"I went to Finn for a change. The Finn is quite a technical boat compared to the Laser," Ainslie said.

Now with two golds in the Finn, is there a potential for change? Not yet, he said.

"Certainly in 2012 I'll be there. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to race an Olympics in your own waters."

He explains that the Finn is "a pretty physical class of racing," and at the age of 35 for the London Games, he could be reaching the outer limits of being able to race competitively in that class.

So, does that mean he's giving it all away? Not for a second.

Ainslie is reluctant to confirm anything past 2012, but hints that there could be another shift yet.

"Perhaps after that I might look at the Star class in 2016. I'm really not sure," Ainslie said.

If he does board a Star class boat in the 2016 Olympics at the age of 39, I certainly wouldn't be one to write him off.

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