by Matt Carter
At the London Olympic 2012 Sailing Competition, Brit Ben Ainslie admitted it had been the hardest two weeks of his life after he became the greatest sailing Olympian of all time on Sunday 5 August. Ainslie claimed his fourth Olympic gold medal – his fifth medal in total – to eclipse Paul Elvstrom’s (DEN) previous best of four golds won between 1948 and 1960.
Triple Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie wins gold in the Finn class.
The triumphant 35-year-old did what he needed to do in today’s double points’ medal race by finishing one place ahead of Jonas Hogh-Christensen (DEN), who had led the regatta from day one.
After a nail-biting final run to the line, in shifting, tricky breeze on the spectator Nothe course, an emotional Ainslie, who was the first Olympic torch bearer on UK soil, crossed the line to tumultuous jubilation from the phenomenal gathered crowd.
Ainslie said: 'That was one of the scariest races I have ever had to go through. The wind was all over the place making it very, very difficult. I stuck to it and did the job. It’s just an amazing feeling. It’s unbelievable.
'It’s been a really tough week. After six races I was in a bit of trouble. I thankfully turned it around and got it right when it counts. I don’t want to go through anything like that again in my life. It’s been incredibly hard, there’s been huge pressure for people to perform at a home Games. It’s been the hardest couple of weeks of my life and I haven’t slept much the past couple of days.
'The support out on the Nothe was amazing. We have never seen that in Olympic sailing so it was just fantastic. I can’t thank everyone enough who has helped me over the years to get to this point; my family, sponsors, the people watching. Everyone in our team, from the coaches to the support staff, the other team members and sailors, they are a fantastic team who have helped me get to this point.'
Ainslie won the first of his history-making medal haul - a Laser class silver – as a wide-eyed 19-year-old at Atlanta 1996. He then won three consecutive golds at Sydney 2000 (Laser), Athens 2004 (Finn) and Beijing 2008 (Finn).
In claiming gold Ben also matched the record for most Olympic sailing medals won in total, held by Torben Grael (BRA), who won gold in 1996 and 2004, silver in 1984 and bronze in 1988 and 2000.
The six-time Finn World Champion went in to today’s double points medal race two points behind Hogh-Christensen knowing that to win that gold he had to beat the Dane.
There had been widespread speculation that Ainslie may once again employ the match racing tactics that he used so effectively to win in Sydney and Beijing. But Ainslie first of all seemed to shy away from getting caught out in a one-on-one with the Dane with both sailors choosing opposite side of the course up the first leg. With the wind dropping it looked like Ainslie decided to keep a closer eye on Hogh-Christensen with the pair sitting in ninth and 10th position.
The only threat to Ainslie’s title defence at this stage - the Dutch sailor Pieter-Jan Postma – rounded the fourth mark comfortably off the pace in sixth. But a massive gain for Postma on the final upwind leg suddenly had everyone biting their nails.
Postma moved ominously up the fleet into third while Ainslie remained in ninth. But all eyes were firmly on whether the Dutchman was going to be able to creep one place further up the fleet, which would have handed HIM the gold medal.
Fortunately for Ainslie, and the thousands of nervous spectators on the Nothe, Postma lost out in a tussle with the Kiwi Dan Slater and dropped back to fifth, handing Ainslie his place in Olympic history.
Ainslie’s medal was Britain’s second of the day, Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson having won silver in the Star class an hour earlier.
The Olympic Sailing Regatta runs from Sunday 29 July – Saturday 11 August.