London 2012 Olympics: Ainslie keeps nerve and sails into history with his fourth gold
Great Britain’s Ben Ainslie is the most successful Olympic sailor of all time after recording an extraordinary fourth – and potentially last – gold medal on home waters.
The 35-year-old replaces Denmark’s legendary Paul Elvstrom as the Games’ most decorated sailor, having overcome the eight-time Olympian’s countryman Jonas Hogh-Christensen in the Finn class yesterday. Elvstrom won four golds between 1948 and 1960.
Leading all week, the Dane only lost his place at the top of the standings after an enthralling medal race that took place in front of thousands of supporters draped in Union flags on the Weymouth coast.
Ainslie pushed Hogh-Christensen to the back of the 10-boat fleet and then saw his only other potential challenger, Dutchman Pieter-Jan Postma, fall back from a threatening position after a penalty turn when he was judged to foul Slate, ensuring the Briton a record-breaking gold.
“I don’t think that will ever settle in,” Ainslie said of the record, which includes four golds and a silver from five Games. “It is an amazing thing, but Paul Elvstrom and what he did all those years ago really revolutionised sailing. It was an amazing feat.
“Today was always going to be hard. It was all the whole way through. That race was certainly one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life but thankfully I came through. Sometimes it comes down to the crunch and you have to make it count.
“I have been lucky in my career that when it has really counted I’ve done that. When I look back, there are so many times when it could’ve gone the other way. I am very grateful to come through this.”
Ainslie came into the Games with the expectations of a host nation on his shoulders. Some bookmakers priced his nearest rivals as far out as 10/1 and others even labelled him – perhaps in jest – Britain’s greatest sailor since Lord Nelson.
“I didn’t rescue the nation from the depths of Napoleon Bonaparte, but you do the best you can do in your style of racing,” Ainslie said.
“It is always hard when people say you are a dead cert, that you’re expected to win. I knew that wasn’t the case and I tried telling everyone, but no-one seemed to listen to me.
“Then, of course, when I wasn’t doing that well then the heat comes on because the expectation is that you will do well. It was a little bit frustrating but that is the nature of being in this position. I had to deal with that and fight back, which thankfully I did.”
Ainslie’s team-mates Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson also had to deal with pressure, heading into London 2012 amongst the favourites.
Unlike their close friend though, the pair fell agonisingly short in the Star class medal race, slipping down to silver-medal position as a result.
The defending Olympic champions sailed exceptionally throughout the week and came into yesterday’s race with an eight-point lead over Brazil’s Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada.
However it was Sweden, not Brazil, that proved Percy and Simpson’s undoing as the Britons lost their crown to Fredrik Loof and Max Salminen on the Nothe Course.
“We always knew today was a bit of a dice throw – it always is with a medal race,” Percy said. “That is the nature of the new format they like to do, that it gets decided on a bit of luck at the end, and we made the wrong decisions.
“That is the way it is and it is always going to be tough decisions because of where the racing is held.
“We had 10 great races out at sea and this is a different kind of game, which we didn’t quite get right on the day.”
With the Star class dropped from the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Percy and Simpson admitted that this was almost certainly their last Games.
As for Ainslie, it seems London 2012 may also prove to be his Olympic swan song. “The America’s Cup is the next goal,” he said. “I have a new team, BAR (Ben Ainslie Racing), and I am also sailing with Oracle Team USA in the America’s Cup next year. Rio is way too far ahead [to think about]. It can never get any better than this so whether I’d want to go through it, I don’t know.”
Young Scottish helm Luke Patience and crew Stuart Bithell continue their 470 Men’s regatta today in second place after a third and fourth place on Saturday.
After six races the duo enjoyed a rest day, watching the medal race action yesterday, and resume racing with a deficit of four points on the Australian world champions Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page. But the leading two crews have already built a cushion of 19 points to third place.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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