After claiming his fourth Olympic gold at London 2012 - his fifth medal overall - Ben Ainslie officially became the Games’ greatest ever sailor. Triumph on home soil was all the sweeter for the Brit, coming in front of fans in Cornwall, where he grew up.
The 35-year-old has since decided to rule himself out of Rio de Janeiro 2016, but the keen football fan told FIFA.com he is hopeful about seeing England in Brazil at the FIFA World Cup™, as well as telling us about his love for Chelsea and nerves during the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League final.
FIFA.com: So, you’re a Chelsea fan, how did that come about?
Ben Ainslie: I grew up down in Cornwall and obviously there aren’t that many clubs down there, or not in the Premier League at least. When I was 15 my family moved to Southampton and one of my life-long friends was a massive Tottenham Hotspur fan. During the mid-'90s Chelsea and Spurs were sort of mid-table warriors, so I thought supporting Chelsea would be the best way to wind up my mate! It’s turned out to be quite a battle over the years. No-one in my family was really into football or supported a club, so I think that’s why I only got into supporting anyone until I moved. I loved watching Gianfranco Zola and Gianluca Vialli - Zola in particular.
What are your favourite games you’ve been to?
I’ve been fortunate to go a couple of times as a guest, and I’ve been with friends and I’ve really enjoyed it. Stamford Bridge is a lovely ground and being in London is a lot of fun, so I really enjoyed it. My first game was a Charity Shield game about ten years ago, but the best I’ve seen was a game between Chelsea and Tottenham at Wembley. I was actually with that friend (where his support of Chelsea stemmed from) at the time, so there was a fair bit of a banter going on.
How has it been watching the team transform over the last decade?
There’s always that opinion that the team is only successful because of the money, and I suppose there’s an element of truth in that, but at the same time it has to be managed properly and certainly we have seen in the last season what a huge difference it has made by getting some cohesion in the team. Just because you buy a lot of expensive players doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be successful, it’s really important that the team is a team and has respect. The last season was an incredible example of that.
Has the last year surprised you, because it initially didn’t look to be going that way?
I think that’s what made that last season so special. When it started off things weren’t looking good at all, but then we managed to turn things around and against the odds win the FA Cup and Champions League. In anyone’s books that’s a pretty successful year. The league obviously wasn’t what everyone was after, but to turn things around like that and have that success is incredible.
How was the final? Were you nervous?
Oh, God yeah. But I think after the Barcelona game there was something that made you think they could pull it off, as that was against the odds in the semi-final and it was the same in the final, but there was something there that gave the sense that they might just do it.
What was more nail-biting for you, watching the penalty shoot-out or taking part in your final race of the Olympics where it was all on the line?
In those high-pressure moments, it doesn’t matter whether it’s sailing or football, it can be quite nerve-wracking. Obviously I’ve never come close to taking part in a penalty shootout in a Champions League final in front of 70,000 people, which must be incredibly nerve-wracking, but obviously for me there was a lot at stake in Olympics. I think you just have to focus on your job, the routine and preparation, and if you can get those things right, whether it’s a penalty kick or a sailing race, it’s going to help you psychologically with the situation.
If you had the choice of playing in that final or winning your gold at London 2012, which would it be?
I wouldn’t give up the gold medal from London, but I could look at trading in one of the other ones for that! But the London one was so special, that’s such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
In terms of England, what are your thoughts on them ahead of Brazil 2014?
I’m hopeful. It’s a funny one with England as you always tend to feel there’s an underachievement there, but I think the important thing is to be realistic about where the team’s come from. With the new personalities and youngsters in the team you have to start somewhere and build up from that. That seems to be the case now, so if they can build some momentum into the competition, hopefully they can go from there.