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Ben Ainsley – Sailor of the Year…Sailor of all time!

By Bob Harris

Last updated 11/19/2012 8:27:56 AM

Ben Ainsley – Sailor of the Year

Britain's Ben Ainslie was confirmed as the world's greatest sailor when he took the highest honour at the 2012 ISAF Rolex Awards in Dublin this week. Big Ben, an Optimist World fan, shared the night with Lijia Xu of China as female sailor of the year at the Mansion House, Dublin, Ireland on Tuesday 6 November.

The annual Awards, sponsored by Rolex since 2001, are the highest honour a sailor can receive and is recognition of achievement in a twelve-month period, in this case from 1 September 2011 to 31 August 2012, encompassing the London Olympic Games.

Competition for the 2012 Awards was formidable, with four outstanding female and five equally exceptional male candidates short-listed from a list of nominations made by the public at large.

The winners were decided by the votes of the over 130 Member National Authorities of ISAF.

This latest award, his fourth in the ISAF Rolex event, confirms beyond doubt that Ben is the greatest of his generation.

Ben Ainslie became the most successful Olympic sailor of all time when he came from nowhere to snatch the gold in his home waters of Weymouth.

The 35-year old's achievement at London 2012 elevated him to five Olympic medals (four gold, one silver), surpassing Rolex Testimonee Paul Elvstrøm (DEN), winner of four gold medals between 1948 and 1960.

On receiving the award, Ainslie paid tribute to the team that has supported him, saying:" Winning the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year award is a huge honour, especially for everyone who has helped me. There is a huge team in the background from family, friends, coaches and sponsors who helped make it happen. It is an honour to be part of such a group of exceptional sailors who were put forward for this award."

Ainslie headed into his home Olympics under a colossal weight of expectation. He was given the honour of welcoming the Olympic torch on its arrival in the United Kingdom, and was chosen as the first of 8,000 torchbearers.

Fittingly, after making history on the waters off Weymouth, Ainslie was selected as Team GB's flag bearer at the Closing Ceremony. "To take part in a home Olympics was a completely unique experience," reflected Ainslie. "I have never felt quite the same level of expectation but also level of support."

Once competition started, it was another Dane - Jonas Høgh-Christensen - who contrived to stand between Ainslie and his fourth Olympic Gold.

Ainslie began the 2012 competition better than any previous Games, but not as well as Christensen. Ainslie needed to react and he used a racecourse incident during the second half of the week to channel his anger and competitive energy.

The reigning Olympic champion found a new level, won two of the last four races and went into the decisive medal race needing to beat the relentless Dane but avoid conceding too many points to his other closest rivals. In front of a partisan crowd and following a nail-biting encounter, Ainslie emerged victorious. He cut an exhausted and emotional figure on the finish line. "These Olympics were not that easy for me, sometimes it flows, sometimes you have to fight for it," he admitted. "It was tough fight all the way to the finish. Taking the gold medal in front of a home crowd - I don't think I will ever experience an emotion quite like that again."

Ainslie has been at the top for 20 years, enduring enormous self-sacrifice in his quest for perfection. A pursuit that involves never giving an inch in training sessions and a relentless competition schedule. His remarkable career has seen him claim nine European titles and ten world championships – the first back in 1993. Few sportsmen, in any discipline, have been at the forefront of their profession for such a sustained period.

He has given the sport some of its finest moments including two epic battles with Rolex Testimonee Robert Scheidt (BRA) at the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games - duels that drew a wider public to sailing.

Driven and passionate, Ainslie is a compelling character whose future in the sport is expected to concentrate on his desire to launch a British America's Cup challenge. As part of his ‘apprenticeship' Ainslie is part of Team Oracle under the stewardship of two-time ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Russell Coutts, and alongside the 2010 ISAF Rolex World Sailor, Tom Slingsby.

Ainslie's excellence in the sport has been recognised with this record fourth ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Award following titles gained in 1998, 2002 and 2008. However, Ainslie remains modest about his momentous achievements, "There are a lot of fantastic sailors out there and when you look at someone like Paul Elvstrøm, he revolutionised the sport of sailing in his day and I certainly don't think I can claim to have done that. I am very fortunate to have had the support to do what I have."

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