Olympic sailor Ainslie rules the waves

Voting for the SJA’s Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year ends on Friday. If you have yet to cast your vote, IAN COLE offers another strong candidate for your attention

If it was Britannia who ruled the waves in history, that mantle – together with the spear and shield – must surely by now have passed to Ben Ainslie.

Ainslie, our guest at an SJA lunch at the beginning of the year when he made it all sound so simple, won a sailing gold medal for the third successive Games – the Laser at Sydney 2000 and the Finn at Athens 2004 and now Beijing.

If success is measured in medals, only those Olympic knights Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent are ahead of Ainslie in Britain’s Roll of Honour.

The SJA has never had a yachtsman as its Sportsman of the Year, so why not now?

There could be handicaps in that we still see sailing as an elitist sport. You have to be brought up in Weymouth or Lymington say some. The fact that TV coverage from a distance used to show a flotilla of boats bobbing up and down on the waves with little indication as to who is leading is another deterrent.

But in the same manner that the Beijing Olympic television coverage of the sailing regatta got up-close and personal for the 21st century, so Ainslie is a thoroughly modern sporting hero.

Last year he crewed in the Americas Cup for Emirates Team New Zealand but has had a long-term dream to win that prestigious trophy for Britain and has been appointed skipper of the British entry, Team Origin. Those duties may impinge on his competing in one-man boats over the next four years, though Ainslie maintains that he still wants to be part of the 2012 Olympic experience.

To read Ian Cole’s previous profiles of award contenders, click here

Voting for the 2008 SJA Sports Awards ends in less than one week. If you are an SJA member and want to cast your vote for the 2008 Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year, click here and complete the easy-to-follow form.

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The SJA Annual Sports Awards are the longest established of their kind in the United Kingdom, having been first staged in 1949. The 60th SJA Sports Awards will be staged on November 26 in London.

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