America's Cup - August 2012

I remember when I was working for the America’s Cup website in Valencia back in 2007, and how my Canadian friend Peter Rusch, the website editor (then and now), used to laugh mockingly at me whenever I had a word of praise for Ben Ainslie. Ruschy doesn’t mock me any more. What any British sailing fan has known for years, the rest of the sailing world has finally woken up to. When Ben Ainslie won his fourth gold medal at London 2012 this summer, he moved past the legendary Paul Elvstrom as the most successful Olympic sailor of all time.

Ben didn’t have much time to celebrate his success before it was time to hop on a plane for the first America’s Cup World Series regatta in San Francisco. It would also be the first outing for Ben Ainslie Racing, the subsidiary team of Oracle Team USA which is to be skippered by Ainslie and crewed by members of the defence team. Ben also announced that his long-term sponsor JP Morgan will be lending its support to Ben Ainslie Racing, although we’ll have to wait and see if Ben can ever gather the funds to mount an America’s Cup team fully on his own terms.

For the time being, he will be working as an employee of Oracle Team USA in its bid to defend the America’s Cup in summer 2013. It will be interesting to see what role he takes up in the team once the Americans’ AC72 giant catamaran comes on stream. As I write, it was just rolling out of the shed in San Francisco, a few weeks after Emirates Team New Zealand had launched its AC72 in Auckland. Once we’ve got used to the sight of these things, the AC45s will look like playthings.

But as for Ainslie. Does he have any hope of displacing James Spithill as the helmsman/skipper? The winning skipper of the last America’s Cup must be starting to feel naked without any medals around his neck. Not that he’s ever tried, because Spithill has been a dyed in the wool America’s Cup sailor since the age of 20 when he got the opportunity to steer Young Australia in 2000 at the Louis Vuitton Trophy series in Auckland.

Aside from Ainslie, there’s another new Olympic champion in the Oracle ranks, Spithill’s friend and fellow Australian Tom Slingsby who dominated the Laser class in Weymouth. And meanwhile Team Korea have proven what a smart signing they made with Nathan Outteridge earlier this year, the 26-year-old Australian sailing to an easy Olympic gold medal in the 49er skiff.

Then again, gold medals don’t necessarily mean that you’re any good at the America’s Cup, as former US team OneWorld was only too keen to tell a young Ben Ainslie back in 2000. Underused and underrated by his peers, Ainslie couldn’t wait to leave, and OneWorld’s loss was Team GB’s game as Ainslie embarked on a Finn campaign that would lead to a decade of dominance in the Olympic heavyweight singlehanded dinghy.

Funnily enough, Spithill was the chosen helmsman for the ill-fated OneWorld campaign. Now 12 years later, Spithill and Ainslie find themselves to be team mates again. But does Oracle have any real intention of using Ainslie in a meaningful way in its campaign, or is it a matter of paying handsomely to have the world’s best sailor in the Oracle tent pissing out, rather than take the risk of having him on the outside, pissing in?




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