America’s Cup: Old rivals, New teammates

Published on November 4th, 2014

What sets Great Britain apart on the Olympic stage is not just their success, but their depth. The Finn class, for example, has had three different Brits win the World Championship since 2010. And now two of them, Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott, will team up to challenge for the America’s Cup…

Anyone who followed the build-up to the 2012 Olympic Games will remember that the biggest hurdle to Ben Ainslie’s historic fourth gold medal was another Brit by the name of Giles Scott.

Their rivalry was one of the most compelling stories of the lead-up to the London 2012 Olympics – a classic narrative as Scott, the apprentice and former training partner, attempted to unseat the dominant figure of the previous generation, and win the single Team GBR place at the Games.

History records that Ainslie won selection, and then won his fourth gold medal. But Giles Scott used his time wisely; he raced with Luna Rossa in their 2013 America’s Cup campaign, and this summer won the Finn Olympic Class World Championship in Santander. Scott, now 27 years, is a firm favourite for gold in Rio 2016, and will be a key member of the British America’s Cup team, Ben Ainslie Racing.

Their story began much earlier than most people realise, right back when Scott was a talented junior.

“The first time I met him was years and years ago,” recalled Scott. “I was doing a National Junior event. I was with the Northampton team, and Ben came and did a talk. I think I would have been about ten years old, sailing with my older brother. I didn’t talk to him, but I think I got a sweater signed by him!”

“We crossed paths at various events after that,” he went on, “but it was when I started sailing the Finn (the Olympic class boat in which Ainslie won his final three gold medals) that I really got to know him. It was 2006 when he came back to the boat – after two years away – to prepare for the 2008 Games. I was one of the youngest members of the Finn squad and still at University, and Ben was the figurehead.”

Ainslie remembers that time clearly. “It was a lot of fun because they were talented guys who were enjoying learning to sail a new class of boat, and for me it was refreshing having some young, motivated guys there to train with – so it worked very well. And Giles was the stand-out talent of that group.” Scott was the ISAF Youth World Champion in the single-handed class in 2005. “They didn’t really have any expectations of the 2008 Olympics,” added Ainslie, “but then with me moving away into the America’s Cup, it was a different story when I came back in 2010. They were that much older, and really going for the 2012 Games.”

Thanks to the idiosyncrasies of the Olympic rules, only one person per nation can compete in each of the ten sailing events. Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott were — by any reasonable measure — the best two athletes in their class in the world. Scott was World Champion in 2011; while Ainslie was World Champion (for the sixth time) in 2012. But because they were both British, only one of them could go to the Games.

“The thing is about Giles,” said Ainslie, “he’s a really nice guy, and I remember saying to him in the build-up to 2008 that it’s great to be nice, but you also have to learn to stand-up for yourself and not let people push you around. Of course, he’d really taken that to heart and so it was a slightly different story for 2012 when he was going for the Olympics. And quite rightly, he needed to stand up for himself. He had just as much right as anybody else to that spot.”

“There was a switch in my mentality,” said Scott. “I had to switch from having Ben on a pedestal, to seeing him as a competitor that I wanted to beat. There was no switch in the way that we operated off the water, but on the water there was a definite transition. He was always trying to assert the dominance that he had always had, and I was constantly trying to break that down.”

The two men went head-to-head in the events that Team GBR had defined for the selection process. “I won a lot of the events in the build-up to the start of the selection events,” reflected Scott, “and then [when it came to the selections] Ben was at the top of his game and he ticked all the boxes, while I finished second.” The rest is history, Ainslie got the spot on the British team, went to the London Olympics and, under almost unimaginable pressure, won his fourth gold.

“The one good thing that came out of it was that it opened up the America’s Cup doorway,” commented Scott. He started sailing with Team Korea, and then Luna Rossa offered him a place on their sailing team.

“All the guys you speak to at Luna Rossa only have good things to say about Giles and how he fitted in with the team,” said Ainslie. “And that’s one of the reasons why we wanted him to be part of this team. There are a handful of sailors of his generation in the world that stand out as really a cut above the rest, and Giles is clearly one of those. We have been very selective about the people that we have brought in; we know that they will gel with the team. And with Giles, it was a ‘no-brainer’. A good team player and a winner. We are very excited about him being with us.”

Scott has continued where Ainslie left off, and now dominates the single-handed men’s Finn class, recently winning the 2014 World Championships with clear blue water between him and the pack. It’s obvious that Scott has unfinished business with that Finn gold medal, and doesn’t intend to let it slip away again.

Combining America’s Cup sailing with the Olympics is something that Ainslie knows all about, but how does Scott think he will fare? “I’m hoping it will be easy to integrate the two, and achieve my Olympic goals and have a positive impact on the Cup. It’s an amazing project to be involved in. I’m just feeling very excited about getting my teeth into it and trying to make it all happen.”

Stephen ‘Sparky’ Parks, RYA Olympic Manager, agrees joining BAR is a positive move for Scott, “Joining BAR is a great option for Giles. No one understands what it takes to win an Olympic medal better than Ben Ainslie – and that will help to ensure that Giles gets the job done in Rio before focussing exclusively on the America’s Cup. Giles will be able to draw on Ben’s experience to ensure he keeps the Finn Olympic Gold medal in GBR hands, where it has been since 2000. Equally, Ben knows Giles well, and he knows he will bring a host of raw sailing skills to the BAR programme.”

And what about working with Ben after all those bruising encounters on the water? “It’s very useful to have been through that, because if two people were ever going to fall out over something, it would be over an Olympic selection – you are battling each other for your dream. Going forward from that, I have a knowledge of him and how he performs – what he likes, what he doesn’t like – you just know each other, so I think it can only be a positive thing,” concluded Scott.

Source: Ben Ainslie Racing

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