Ben Ainslie, Britain’s most successful Olympic sailor, looks back at the health battle which nearly cost him gold in the London Games, the hurdles he’s faced during his life, and his hopes for the future.
What’s life been like after the Olympics?
It’s been non-stop since the Olympics because my goal now is to win the America’s Cup, one of the toughest races in the world.
I have my own team, Ben Ainslie Racing, and I have been competing in America.
It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid to be part of a winning America’s Cup team and to try to bring it back to the UK, where it all started in 1851.
How do you feel about your triumphs?
I have so many brilliant memories. Last year, being involved in a home Olympics and winning gold, takes some beating. It was the most wonderful atmosphere. It felt as though sailing was getting the attention it deserves.
People still talk about that first TV interview with me, when I was in the boat and had just won the gold, and I hardly spoke.
That was because I was trying so hard to make sure I didn’t break down in tears in front of millions of people. It was pretty emotional.
When I started sailing at age eight, I had no idea I could do what I’ve done. I’ve had many memorable moments in my career, not least winning my first medal, silver, in the 1996 Olympic Games when I was only 19.
“I never dreamt then that my total would come to five medals with four golds!
HAVE YOU HAD HEALTH PROBLEMS?
My darkest moments were in January 2012, six months before the Olympics, when I had to have an operation on my back.
My back has troubled me for years and it was partly caused by the punishment I’ve given it over the years. I also have pretty bad scoliosis and a slippage in one of my lower discs.
A few weeks after the operation, I was demoralised when my back went again because I’d trained too hard. It meant months of rehab and physio. Then I got an attack of positional vertigo, an imbalance in the inner ear, which I’ve suffered before.
It was depressing and frustrating at the time and at one point I thought it had scuppered my chances of competing. Also, eight years ago I got glandular fever, which I’ve never really got over. I still suffer from its effects if I push myself too hard or get run down.
Ben Ainslie’s autobiography, Close To The Wind, is published by Yellow Jersey, priced £8.99. Available now.