Hoping to finish on a proud note they struggled to tenth place in the desperately close, tense medal race yesterday to finish tenth overall. In light breezes on the showcase Nothe course, they started well again but were behind at the top mark after a shifty, difficult first beat. Ben Ainslie won his fourth consecutive sailing Olympic gold medal in front of an ecstatic home crowd on Weymouth’s Nothe medal arena after a nail-biting medal race which saw the British hero facing the momentary prospect of missing out.
But Ainslie’s successful defence of the title he won in Qingdao, China ensures he is now the most decorated Olympic sailor ever. By virtue of the silver medal he won in 1996 in the Laser, he now exceeds the record of Denmark’s legendary Paul Elvstrom who won four golds between 1948 and 1960.
Ainslie faced the challenge of holding Denmark’s double world champion Jonas Hoegh-Christensen behind him through the race, and staying in touch with the young Dutch sailor Pieter-Jan Postma.
Despite all of his Olympic and match racing experience the Danish sailor all but escaped Ainslie’s attention off the start line and it was down to a simple choice of which side of the first windward leg which allowed the British sailor to get the better of the Dane who only returned to full time Olympic sailor last November. But having slowed Hoegh-Christensen to the back of the fleet, his gold medal was suddenly in the balance when Postma tried to pass Kiwi Dan Slater.
Challenging for second, Postma was judged to foul Slate and had to take a penalty. Dropping to fifth he acceded a certain bronze to the French sailor Jonathan Lobert who crossed the finish line first.
Ainslie said later that he expected this to be his last Finn Olympic race and probably his last Olympic regatta: “It has been the hardest two weeks of my life.”
There was disappointment on the same course area for Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson whose hopes of becoming the first ever crew to defend the Star class gold medal disappear in the final minutes of their medal race when they dropped to eighth place while Sweden’s 2008 bronze medallist seized gold.
The British pair took silver among three crews which now hold 16 Olympic medals between them Percy commenting: “I don’t think I have any concerns about holding my head up in the professional sailing world, about coming second in this class against the two guys who are head of us. I am proud of that.”