FE me

6th October 2006 at 01:00
Name: Ben Ainslie MBE

Job: Olympic sailor

Born: 1977

Attended: Peter Symonds College, 1994-95

Studied: A-levels in history, geography, English

Ben Ainslie began sailing at the age of four and competing from the age of 10. His love of the water has taken him to three Olympic medals, two gold and one silver. He took golds in Sydney and Athens and a silver medal in Atlanta 1996, while he was still in his teens.

Ben is aiming to win his third successive Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008 and hopes to cap his golden career by being crowned Olympic champion a fourth time in London 2012 before he retires.

My college studies were disrupted by having to train for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, but Peter Symonds was always supportive.

I decided to take a year out, and the Olympics were fantastic. When I got back, I wanted to continue my education. But having won a silver in 1996, the expectation was that I would continue and have a go in Sydney in 2000.

I found that going back to college and continuing with my A-level work along with all the training I needed to do to compete internationally, just didn't work. The lecturers were quite good with their tutorials , but I found it frustrating not being able to give more time to my studies.

So I ended up leaving and using a tutorial college in Winchester. That was great because I could do my work whenever I was at home and go away and compete for three weeks and not miss anything. I did geography and environmental science, and got two B grades.

The teachers during my year at Peter Symonds were great. I remember Liz Petheram and Dr John Hare for history. Liz was enthusiastic. I was impressed with her teaching style - she kept everyone captivated.

Geography was taught by Alistair McNaught who was very good and really funny. I enjoyed being taught by him. He had a sense of humour and got the whole class mickey-taking, although he took the work seriously. It was always a lot of fun.

Sandra Showell taught English. She was great with me and very supportive of my sailing. I've been back a couple of times through Sandra to talk about the Olympics and it's great that we are in contact.

I was far more focused on sailing. It taught me a lot about structure in life and goals. But Peter Symonds made me realise that I needed to get the results.

My parents were always great about me sailing, but wanted me to get A-levels in case things didn't go to plan, so I could still go to university.

Peter Symonds was supportive as well. Even the year I was there, it was obvious that I probably wasn't spending enough time studying because of training. But they always believed I wasn't being idle or lazy. I will always appreciate that.

My classmates were good and it was fortunate I had some success because I had won the world youth championships. I was dreaming of an Olympic gold then, although I would never have said it.

I made some good friends - Ian Percy was my best friend. He won a gold medal in the Finn class at Sydney. He was in the year above and I hung about with him and we have been good friends since.

I often wonder what would have happened if I had done my A-levels and gone to university, but I think I made the right decision.

I will never forget my most embarrassing moment which was at the first college ball. It was a big thing and Sandra was really excited about introducing me to the governors of the college.

Unfortunately, being a sportsman and not really used to drinking, I ended up being sick all over this guy. I was mortified and it took me months to get over it. It was so embarrassing. A couple of glasses of wine, but I wasn't quite up to it.

My only regret is not to have been able to continue and really get stuck into it and to have studied properly. I really enjoyed being there, there were good teachers and a good atmosphere.

But it is amazing to win a gold medal. The biggest motivation and pressure come from within. I did shed a tear privately when I was sailing back to the shore and realised that I had done it. It was awesome.

Ben Ainslie was talking to Shekhar Bhatia

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