Britain’s Ben Ainslie became the most successful Olympic sailor on Sunday, adding a fourth gold to his medal collection, and he is now set to change tack and concentrate on winning yachting’s blue riband event, the America’s Cup.
Ainslie won gold in the single-handed Finn class and now has a four Olympic gold medals and one silver, breaking a record that has stood since 1960.
He then indicated he would not try for a sixth Olympic medal, saying it could not get any better than sealing the record on home waters and he would now concentrate on winning the America’s Cup.
“To have the opportunity to race in front of a home crowd, you’ll never get any better than that,” Ainslie said when he returned to rapturous applause at his sailing base.
Ainslie’s achievement on the water betters the four gold sailing medals won by Paul Elvstrom, a record which has stood since it was set by the Danish sailor in 1960.
The 35-year-old Briton admitted his tactics going into the medal race had been to “make life difficult” for Denmark’s Jonas Hogh-Christensen, who had made it his mission to defend Elvstrom’s record.
The Dane had appeared unbeatable at times during the 10 races prior to Sunday’s medal race, but Ainslie ground him down to within two points going into the final race.
Ainslie, who made his mark in Olympic sailing as a 19-year-old at the Atlanta Games in 1996, is renowned for his ability to duel with other sailors on the water.
His tactical abilities were put to the test in perfect, sunny conditions on home waters off the south coast of England. By beating Hogh-Christensen, Ainslie added to his three golds and a silver in successive Games.
The Dane took the silver medal.
Ainslie said the pressure had got to him at times, but he was lifted by the thousands of supporters who flocked to Weymouth to support him in the heavyweight Finn class.
“It’s always hard when people say you are a dead cert and you are expected to win. I knew that wasn’t the case and I tried telling everyone, but nobody seemed to listen to me,” a smiling Ainslie said after vaulting over a barrier to greet his sister and her young children with an emotional family hug.
“He is just an extraordinary competitor. He has the potential of emerging from this as arguably our most successful, maybe, in that handful of great, great British Olympians,” London organizing committee chairman Seb Coe said.
Arms aloft and with a flare billowing red smoke in each hand, Ainslie celebrated his narrow victory in front of a huge cheering home crowd packed onto the grassy slopes of Nothe Fort, immediately above the race course.
Sailing the physically demanding Finn dinghy has taken its toll on Ainslie’s body, causing him back and knee troubles, but despite suggestions that some of his success is down to better funding, Ainslie’s boat was the same one he sailed to victory in the two previous Olympics.
The medal race was won by Jonathan Lobert of France, who took the bronze ahead of Pieter-Jan Postma of the Netherlands.
The Dutchman had to perform a penalty turn after hitting New Zealander Dan Slater, ruining his medal chances.
Lobert joined other Finn sailors in saluting Ainslie’s achievement, pointing out that he was still a junior sailing the classic Optimist class when the British sailor was already performing on the global stage.