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England picks Ben Ainslie for '12 Games

9/20/2011

Sailing in the Olympics in his home waters will come with heavy expectations for Ben Ainslie.

The star sailor was named Tuesday to Team Great Britain for the London Olympics next summer. Competing in the Finn class, Ainslie will be trying for his fourth straight gold medal and fifth straight Olympic medal overall.

Considering that one British journalist has called the 34-year-old Ainslie "The greatest sailor Britain has seen since Nelson," anything less than a gold will be a disappointment.

That would be Admiral Lord Nelson, whose victory over the French and Spanish fleets in 1805 is celebrated in London's Trafalgar Square.

Despite his past Olympic dominance, Ainslie faced a tough qualification process against some talented countrymen. He returned to his Olympic campaign last November after spending time with a now-defunct British America's Cup team.

"This qualification process was definitely the hardest compared to the previous four I've been through," Ainslie said. "The previous experiences helped, but at the same time having the Olympics in the UK puts that added bit of pressure on. We all want to compete on home waters. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Ainslie took the silver medal in the Laser class in the 1996 Olympics and has been golden ever since. After winning gold in Sydney in 2000 in the Laser, he switched to the Finn, a heavyweight dinghy, and won golds at Athens and Beijing.

Teammates and rivals expect Ainslie to dominate at Weymouth and Portland, the Olympic venue on the English Channel.

"I can think of no one in any sport you would put your money on more than Ben," said British teammate Iain Percy, who will go for his third gold medal in the Star class. "He is the hardest worker I know. He's a real machine on the training side and the old cliche is true, the harder you train, the better you do."

Brazilian Robert Scheidt beat Ainslie for the gold in the Laser class at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, then was beaten by the Brit in Sydney four years later.

"In his mind he wants to give that extra, but the others don't give and makes him a very strong competitor," said Scheidt, who has two Olympic golds and two silvers. "To beat him you have to be at your best. If you're not at your best you won't beat him."

Sir Steve Redgrave, Britain's five-time Olympic gold medalist in rowing, understands what Ainslie is attempting.

"The multiple medalists from different games I think are at a different level from the multiple medalists from one games. True great athletes are ones that can come back four years later and do it again and again four years after that and do it again," Redgrave said.

Ainslie had a remarkable performance at Athens in 2004. Disqualified from his second-place finish in the second race due to a protest, he fought back from 19th overall to win the gold.