Ben Ainslie admits his Finn racing career is almost certainly behind him, but he is not yet closing the door completely on the Olympic Games.
The Lymington superstar won the fourth gold medal of his sensational career when he triumphed dramatically on the waters at Weymouth and Portland, writes GORDON SIMPSON.
Ainslie’s latest success officially established him as the greatest Olympic sailor of all-time. But, after racing in the physically demanding Finn class in each of the last three Games, the 35-year-old insists he is unlikely to be seen in one of the boats again.
“I think that’s it for Finn racing probably,”he told The Daily Echo . “But, I don't know, you never say never with the Olympics .
“The next goal is the America’s Cup and I’m looking forward to that and then we’ll see what happens. It’s four years away, it’s a long time.”
When he eventually comes round to making his decision on Rio 2016, Ainslie will no doubt consider whether he can top what he achieved at London 2012.
Certainly, in terms of the atmosphere and support, there is nothing he believes will ever compare.
“The Olympics is an amazing event, and a home Olympics of course it will never get any better than this in terms of the support and just the feeling and the emotion of being successful on home waters,” he said.
“Our race course for the final race was very close to the shore, so there were five or six thousand people there all screaming their heads off, and that made a huge difference during the race and, of course, when I finished, to go up and celebrate in front of those people I will never experience anything like that again.”
Such is the enormity of Ainslie’s achievements that, despite the success enjoyed by Team GB athletes at the Games, he was chosen by the British Olympic Association to carry his nation’s flag at the closing ceremony.
“I was really proud, it was a proud moment for me, and I think it was great for sailing as well, to have a sailor in there taking on such an important role,” he said.
Ainslie also revealed that he had taken inspiration himself from the success of some of his colleagues.
“I took a lot from the performances of a lot of the British athletes, the rowers, Bradley Wiggins and the cyclists, Mo Farah, Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford and of course, Usain Bolt,” he said.
“There were some fantastic moments in these Games and I was just very lucky to have been a part of it.”
Outside of Jamaican sprinter Bolt, there was perhaps no one more favoured to win their event going into the Olympics than Ainslie, who revealed that the weight of expectation was not always simple to cope with.
“One of the problems was that, in the build-up to the event, I was being built up more and more as the favourite to win and the expectations were to win,” he said, speaking at the Royal Lymington Yacht Club. “I knew it wasn’t going to be that easy. I knew that I had a lot of challengers and the more I kept on telling everyone the more they sort of reacted in disbelief as though it wasn’t the case.
“So it was tough. I didn’t necessarily sail the greatest series of my life, but some times that’s the case. For whatever reason I wasn’t really finding my stride or sailing as well as I knowI can do, but I was still able to grind it out and get the victory.”
At the midway point of the regatta, though, it looked unlikely that Ainslie would win, as Jonas Hogh- Christensen built a commanding lead. But some inspired performances from the Hampshire sailor saw him reel his rival in, sealing gold ahead of the Dane, as well as Netherlands’ Pieter- Jan Postma, in a dramatic medal race.
“It was the most nerveracking 30 minutes of my life,” said Ainslie of the last stage. “I can’t tell you how stressful that was.”
There is little time for Ainslie to bask in the glory of his latest gold medal. On Friday, he flies to San Francisco for the America’s Cup World Series, where he will compete with his new team, Ben Ainslie Racing.
While he insists a break would have been welcome, he is also glad to be focusing on a new challenge straight away.
“It would be nice to have a quick rest, but also in a way it’s good to move on from the Olympics,” he said.
“Quite often you find when you train so hard for an event like that you stop and there’s nothing there, and you feel very empty, so to have another challenge to move on to is a good thing.”