Sun, Jul 08, 2012 - Page 19 News List

LONDON 2012 OLYMPICS: Ainslie hopes gold is going to be plain sailing

AFP, PARIS

Triple Olympic gold medal-winning sailor Ben Ainslie carries the Olympic torch on May 19 as the first torchbearer for the London Olympic Games at Land’s End, Cornwall.

Photo: EPA

Triple Olympic champion Ben Ainslie will lead home hopes in the sport of sailing in which Great Britain leads the all-time medals table with 50, including 25 golds.

Ainslie and his fellow mariners will have the particular attention of International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, who represented Belgium in the event in three Games. The Olympic action takes place many kilometers away from London.

At Portland, there is a naval base and a prison, all close to the sleepy Dorset coastal town of Weymouth, made famous in the film The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

Ainslie has already had a year to remember, having been given the honour of starting the Torch Relay in England’s Land’s End, which he termed “an unforgettable experience.”

He has also seen his beloved football club Chelsea win the Champions League in dramatic circumstances — now he wants to cap it by winning his fourth gold medal in home waters.

Although born in landlocked Macclesfield, the 35-year-old grew up on the same stretch of coastline where they will compete, although he was further southwest in Cornwall.

He immediately found the water to his liking and competed in his first world championships aged 12.

Two of his gold medals came in the Laser class (2000 and 2004), before he put on some weight and moved up to the Finn class and collected gold in 2008.

Earlier this year he recorded a record sixth world title in the category in his dinghy with the endearing name Rita.

Having become Britain’s youngest-ever sailing medalist when he won silver in the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Ainslie could become only the second ever to win four golds, emulating Denmark’s Paul Elvstrom, who won four golds between 1948 and 1960.

Oddly enough, Ainslie’s hopes of winning gold have been blessed by the Olympic rules, as only one representative from one country can compete in each class, which has ruled out probably the only person capable of beating him, compatriot Giles Scott.

The 24-year-old has had the better of his older rival for a while now and it was perhaps this that forced Ainslie into pushing too hard against Scott in the Weymouth Regatta earlier this month, the last regatta before the Games, that saw him capsize.

“It’s a bit embarrassing going for a swim, but sometimes these things happen. Thankfully it wasn’t the Olympic Games. I made a mistake, we’re all human,” Ainslie said.

While Ainslie looks a class apart, his compatriot and fellow gold medalist from Beijing, Paul Goodison, faces a tough battle to retain his Laser crown with Australian world champion Tom Slingsby the man to beat, after winning the last event at the same Weymouth Regatta.

However, it promises to be a bitter duel, as Goodison was spitting tacks after losing to Slingsby in Weymouth.

He claimed the Australians had ganged up on him — unlike at the Olympics, there was no restriction on the number of sailors from each country.

“He won’t have his mates out there to help him next time,” Goodison said.

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