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Page last updated at 09:35 GMT, Monday, 4 August 2008 10:35 UK

Brits to watch: Ben Ainslie

Ben Ainslie

By Rob Hodgetts

Ben Ainslie is in grave danger of achieving legendary status, not just in sailing but in Olympic sport, and is arguably Britain's best chance of a gold medal at the Beijing Games.

The 31-year-old is the nation's most successful Olympic sailor along with Rodney Pattisson and is going for a fourth medal and third straight gold in China.

After winning silver in Atlanta and gold in Sydney in the single-handed Laser class, he bulked up by 15kgs to compete in the heavyweight Finn dinghy and claimed gold in Athens four years ago.

He followed that up with a spell in the America's Cup with Team New Zealand, before throwing his hat back into the Olympic ring last year. He won the test event in Qingdao last summer and then beat team-mate Ed Wright for the British Finn spot before stamping his authority on the class by winning the world and European titles this year.

"The pressures of being favourite don't really affect me. My biggest pressures to be successful come from within," he told BBC Sport.

"I take each Olympic cycle as a goal in itself so I don't really think about the past. The goal is to win gold in Beijing."

FACTS & STATS

Born: 5 February 1977, Macclesfield (grew up in Restronguet, Cornwall)
Trains: Lymington, Palma
Career highlights: Olympic Finn gold (2004), Olympic Laser gold (2000), Olympic Laser silver (1996), Five Finn world titles, two Laser world titles.

PATH TO THE PODIUM

2008 form: Ainslie's utter dominance in the class saw him claim a fifth Finn world title in Australia in January before backing it up with a fourth European title in Italy in May.

Ainslie chooses his races carefully these days and when he does turn up, the rest of the fleet are virtually racing for second place.

Rivals: Denmark's Jonas Hoegh-Christensen is the current world number one, although he was beaten into fourth by Ainslie, Wright and third-ranked Spaniard Rafa Trujillo Villar in Melbourne in January.

Croatia's world number four Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic was second at the Europeans in May.

Ben Ainslie
Ainslie won the Olympic test event in Qingdao in 2006 and 2007

How he could win: Ainslie's great strength is putting together a super-consistent regatta. "He has an incredible ability to turn around a race that might not be going very well and get a decent result out of it," said Team GB Olympic sailing manager Stephen Park.

The one area of concern in Qingdao is that very light winds cause the regatta to be shortened.

"If we lose a lot of days it does become a lottery," added Park. "But if we get a reasonable number of races then I'm confident that the talent will end up at the top of the list."

What he says: "Any Olympic medal is an amazing achievement, for sure, because sailing is such a funny sport. But I'd be disappointed if I didn't win, as I would in any event, because that's why you do sport, to try to win.

"The more you go to the Olympics and the older and more experienced you get, the easier it becomes in terms of putting all the razzmatazz aside so you can focus on the racing. If I win, then fantastic, and it will be nice to say I've got three gold medals but until that happens you can't really think about it."

What you say: "It isn't an exaggeration to say he is possibly the greatest ever dinghy sailor."
Islandborn

Sporting high: Ainslie might claim that some of his personal victories on the golf course are what he is most fond of but in sailing terms, two Olympic golds speak for themselves. He also said in January that his fifth Finn world title was arguably the hardest and most satisfying of his career.

Sporting low: An aborted stint with America's Cup outfit OneWorld after the Sydney Olympics saw Ainslie struggle to cope with being a small and underused cog in a massive wheel and he quit in 2002.

In action: Finn regatta runs from 9-16 August
Ainslie will compete in an opening series of 10 races, with each finishing position counting as points (ie first = one point). The worst result can be discarded before the top 10 go into the final medal race where points count for double.

AWAY FROM SAILING

Life before sport: His life is his sport. He started sailing aged eight in Cornwall, guided by father Roddy who competed in the first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973-74. By 16, Ainslie was already Laser Radial world champion and at 19 he won his first Olympic medal at the Atlanta Games.

Hero worship: Off the water, Ainslie is an avid golfer and says Tiger Woods is his sporting hero.

Ben Ainslie
Ainslie hit back from disqualification in race two to win gold in Athens
Most likely to: Claim gold in Beijing, try to win the America's Cup for Team Origin (likely to be in 2010 or 2011) and then defend his Olympic crown in Weymouth in 2012.

Least likely to: Be found dancing on tables after a skinful in a Qingdao bar on Friday, 15 August - the night before his Olympic medal race.

Did you know? When asked which three famous people that he hadn't met he would invite to a dinner party, Ainslie told BBC Sport: "Winston Churchill, JFK and Angelina Jolie."

He also revealed he'd choose blondes over brunettes (slightly going against the Jolie answer above, but never mind), beer over wine, lager over bitter, Beatles before the Rolling Stones, rugby over football, rock music instead of dance music, drums over lead guitar, Sampras not Federer and Coe over Ovett. And his last meal on earth would be steak and chips.


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see also
Ainslie powers to European title
10 May 08 |  Sailing
Ainslie seals fifth world title
29 Jan 08 |  Sailing


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