A DIFFERENT ANIMAL ON WATER
There was something strange about Sir Ben Ainslie.
Sitting alongside the other 11 skippers of teams competing in the Extreme Sailing Series and addressing the media before the season's first races in the Republic, there was no swagger from sailing's mega-star.
With fidgety fingers and a furrowed brow, the four-time Olympic gold medallist, and mastermind of Oracle Team USA's phenomenal comeback win over Emirates Team New Zealand in the America's Cup last year, hardly made eye contact with his fellow skippers.
Speaking to The New Paper later, he chuckled and said: "It's pretty simple - there's the competition world when you're racing and you want to try and win. And then there's real life.
"Competing is a game, it's not real life - there's a very clear distinction for me between them."
Perhaps the 37-year-old captain of the J.P. Morgan BAR team was talking about his reputation for being single-minded, maybe even arrogant on the water, and his distinctly different real-world self.
"I try my best not to be arrogant. Maybe when I'm competing, I have been at times, and I think any top sportsman has to have self belief when competing," said the ardent Chelsea fan.
"I'd like to think that on the shore I'm completely opposite to that."
Seated next to his opponents, he had his game-face on, but in the presence of land-lovers, Ainslie was indeed different.
Laid back and always with a ready laugh, he was not only approachable, but warm and friendly, even approaching a waitress to offer a handshake and a little small talk with the starry-eyed young woman midway through an interview.
But, when asked to recall the final race of the America's Cup, Ainslie the competitor returned.
"Up until the last race we were fighting to get back in the series, and all of a sudden it was 8-8 and the cup was ours to lose again. That changed the atmosphere, there was a lot more tension," said Ainslie, arguably sailing's biggest star.
"Some people enjoy the pressure situations, personally that's why I compete, that's why you race at the highest level, because you want to put yourself in those positions."
In one of the greatest comebacks in sport, Oracle stormed home to claim the final race and win the America's Cup 9-8.
Now hailed as one of Britain's greatest Olympians, Ainslie has all the weapons in his arsenal.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has received much criticism for stirring up tensions off the field, but it is something Ainslie - the one out on the water - understands.
"That's sport isn't it. A psychological battle that you have in sport that you wouldn't probably have in normal life," he pointed out.
"Mourinho is clearly intelligent, a very good psychologist, pushing his rivals' buttons at the right time, and getting his players to play, to play with the right style.
"I'm very happy that he's back at Chelsea."
Even while competing in the Extreme Sailing Series, a different competition in which his British team have "a lot to learn," Ainslie is already looking to the next challenge.
"I really want to win the America's Cup with a British team. We are a very proud maritime nation and that's probably the one sporting event we've never won.
"That's a huge challenge."
Ainslie is currently working to raise approximately US$100 million (S$126 million) to fund that British team, possibly in the 2017 America's Cup.
Letting slip what is perhaps a champion athlete's addiction to competitive struggle, Ainslie laughed, then said: "If I'm fortunate enough to tick that box, then I'm sure there'll be something else to compete in."
Held at The Promontory@Marina Bay, the Singapore leg of the eight-stop Extreme Sailing Series goes on till Sunday. Admission to the race village is free.