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Ainslie Fine Tunes Cup Campaign

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  • Ainslie Fine Tunes Cup Campaign

    The Guardian's Donald McRae produce this fine piece on Ben Ainslie ongoing efforts to get a British Challenger for the Americas Cup in AC 35

    "It's been a very tough year," Ben Ainslie says on a mild morning in New York as he allows himself to step back and reflect on a tumultuous 2013. The world's most successful sailor is in the midst of reliving the sporting comeback of the year – which saw his late introduction to the America's Cup inspire the US Oracle team. They recovered from an 8-1 deficit and won the eight remaining races against their New Zealand rivals to clinch the oldest trophy in international sport.

    The amazing transformation, however, was preceded by terrible tragedy. One of Ainslie's closest friends, Andrew "Bart" Simpson, was killed while practising for the America's Cup in May. Ainslie and Simpson hoped to, one day, lead a British boat and win a race which started on the waters around the Isle of Wight in 1851. Britain has never come close to lifting the cup since then.

    After he became the most decorated sailor in Olympic history, winning his fourth successive gold in 2012 to follow his silver medal in 1996, Ainslie joined Oracle as a support member. Simpson, meanwhile, was part of the Swedish team who hoped to win the right to compete in their boat Artemis. It was part of their united quest to deepen their knowledge of sailing's most important event.

    Midway through a disastrous series for Oracle, Anslie was asked to come on board and work in the unfamiliar role of tactician. He galvanised the listing US boat and was directly responsible for the dramatic turnaround. But, despite the delirious victory, Ainslie was pulled up short by the memory of Simpson's death in those same waters near San Francisco.

    "After we crossed the line there were immediate celebrations on the boat," Ainslie remembers. "We had pulled off a remarkable win and were so happy. But soon after the bedlam died down I thought about Bart. We had to sail the boat back to our base and this meant we were in the very stretch of water where the Artemis capsized. I could not stop thinking about Bart."

    Ainslie is not a sentimental man but his voice thickens and he pauses to gather himself. "It was a special time to concentrate on Bart and pay my respects. It was the end of the whole America's Cup saga which had started with Bart's death and ended with the final winning race. To pass that very spot put things to rest. It was very poignant.

    "When it happened, the Oracle was sailing right next to Artemis. Unfortunately, I had a first-hand view. Of course we knew pretty quickly that somebody was missing. As a sailor, you know that if someone is missing for that amount of time it's unlikely to be good news. We didn't know which of the guys from Artemis was gone but every one of them is a good comrade. I had probably sailed or shared a beer with every single one of them. But when I found out it was Bart …"

    Ainslie's voice drifts into silence before he forces himself to continue. "The whole world caved in really …"

    Ainslie has again been nominated for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year, which will be announced on Sunday, but he is understandably consumed by the memory of Simpson. "Ever since we were kids we had been racing against each other. Most of our careers we'd been in the same class of boat so we built a strong bond driving across continents together for many years – just the two of us with our boats on a trailer behind the car. The only negative was our chasing the same Olympic spot most of our career, and that was tough. But it was a credit to Bart that it never got in the way of our friendship.

    "Bart had a very good technical brain. He was very good at setting boats up and he understood the engineering of the sport. So he was perfectly suited to the America's Cup. It's just a tragedy and now his wife, Leah, and their two sons, Freddie and Hamish, are trying to rebuild their lives. Iain Percy [who won Olympic gold and silver in partnership with Simpson in 2008 and 2012] has been fantastic in spending so much time with them. And us other close friends keep in touch, work on Bart's foundation, and try to see them whenever we can."

    What would Simpson have made of Ainslie's outlandish America's Cup win? "He would've had a wry smile. Bart was always the first to congratulate you if you'd had a good race. He was a true supporter of sailing. So he would have been happy. But we just wish he was here to be part of it."

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  • #2
    Wouldn't it be ironic if Ben leveraged his time with Oracle to take the Cup back to the UK for the 1st time?