Ben Ainslie admits he can’t afford to think about the prospect of carving his name in Games history as he begins his assault on a record-breaking fifth Olympic sailing medal at London 2012 on Sunday (29 July).
Ben Ainslie, Finn.
British sailing’s leading man, already the country’s most successful sailing Olympian ever, will become the most decorated Olympic sailor of all time should he win Finn class gold at these Games.
Macclesfield-born Ainslie already has three golds and one silver medal to his credit from the past four Olympics in Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing. But gold at Weymouth and Portland next week would see the 35-year-old eclipse the four golds won by the great Danish sailor Paul Elvstrom from 1948-1960.
Ainslie, who first learned to sail as a youngster on the waters near his Restronguet family home in Cornwall, gets the 2012 Olympic Sailing Regatta underway from 12pm on Sunday.
But, if everything goes to plan, is it next Sunday (5 August) when all eyes will be trained on Weymouth Bay, to see if Lymington-based Ainslie can do what needs to be done in the final double points’ medal race and claim his fourth successive Olympic crown.
Not that he himself will be looking beyond race one at this stage.
Ainslie said: 'Pretty much every interview I do I get asked the most successful sailing Olympian question but it’s something I don’t think about, I can’t afford to. I just think about the goal with this Olympics and doing everything I can to be best prepared. If I do that, win or lose, I can say I gave my all.
'Sometimes people look at results and they might think that at a particular event I’ve been dominant. But the truth is it’s incredibly tight. Physically I’ve never pushed myself as hard as I have done in the last 18 months.
'The competition’s always been very tough and there’s always someone new. At Beijing Zach Railey popped up and was a real challenge for the gold medal. This time it could be someone completely different so you never know, you’ve got to keep pushing 100%.'
Ainslie had the honour of being the first person to carry the Olympic torch on British soil at Land’s End, just a day after he had trounced the field to land his sixth Finn World title on his home waters in Falmouth.
Having been in Trafalgar Square the day it was announced it 2005 that London would host the 2012 Olympics – a moment he describes as 'career defining' in that he decided to campaign for another Games – it was experiencing the atmosphere of day one of the Torch’s UK journey it 'really hit home' the Games had arrived.
Britain’s sailors have dominated at the past three Games, with the team winning 16 medals – nine golds, four silvers and three bronze – in Sydney, Athens and Beijing. But Ainslie, often viewed as the unofficial team figurehead, believes the strength of the British team heading in London 2012 can once again see them topping the sailing medal table.
'History says the host nation performs better. That’s on paper, ultimately it’s down to the teams and the athletes to go out there and prove it. You can’t go off past reputation or luck or anything, you have to go out and prove that you’re the best' he added.
'People often ask ‘Why is the team successful? What’s it doing?’ And it’s nothing amazing, nothing ground breaking, it’s just doing the simple things right, supporting the sailors the best way possible and ultimately allowing them to get on with their campaign and trusting them to do the right thing. Hopefully we can make that count on the water.
'It’s one of the strengths of the team that we’ve got so many gold medallists. You also draw a lot of inspiration from the excitement of the younger members of the team coming through. It reminds you how fortunate you are to be racing at the Olympics. It can be easy to take these things for granted but the Olympics can never be your job. It’s a huge honour.'
RYA London 2012 website