It hardly came as a surprise... while Ben Ainslie put in an outstanding performance in Weymouth to win his fourth Olympic gold and fifth Olympic sailing medal, he had to battle against more than just his opponents. He had to battle with his body as well - so much so that at one point there was a helicopter on standby in case he needed an emergency pain fix for his back.

Ben Ainslie by Tom Gruitt

Ben Ainslie celebrating his fourth gold medal in Weymouth - photo Tom Gruitt/Creating Waves

Olympic Finn sailing is physical, especially the way Ben sails the boat... although Ben didn't quite rule out an Olympic return at the end of the 2012 Games, he gave a pretty strong indication that it would be unlikely that he'd be back. He didn't rule it out completely at that point... why? Undoubtedly because there was still a hope that the Star keelboat might get a reprieve at the November ISAF meetings. But while windsurfing got its Olympic berth back for 2016, there was no such u-turn on the Star. While Ben may not have even decided to pursue a Star campaign, it was, in truth, the only class in which he could realistically continue to pursue the Olympic dream.

Still it wasn't an easy decision: "When I look back there are so many special memories; from that first medal in Atlanta 16 years ago to carrying the flag at the closing ceremony in London 2012. London was an incredibly special Olympics, competing on home waters and in front of a home crowd, I don’t think anything will be able to top that experience. But you have to move forwards and it is time to move onto the next challenge in my career.”

That challenge is the America's Cup. While he will be competing in the 34th America's Cup as part of Oracle Team USA, Ainslie has taken the bold move to setup a team to challenge for the 35th America’s Cup. No easy task; the America’s Cup is the only international sporting trophy Great Britain has never won! Still his JP Morgan-sponsored Ben Ainslie Racing AC45 team has been competing on the America's Cup World Series circuit (see Ben Ainslie Announces America’s Cup Plans), and shown its worth, finishing second at the last event in October.

“The America’s Cup has always been a goal for me," explains Ben. "With the new format of the America’s Cup World Series and the increased commercialisation of the event, I feel confident that we can continue to build towards creating a commercially viable team, with the ultimate goal of challenging for the 35th America’s Cup.”

RYA: sad to see him go
It was obvious that the Royal Yachting Association was sad to see Ainslie go - his first medal at Savannah in 1996 marked the start of Britain's rise to the top of the Olympic sailing medal table.

RYA Performance Director, John Derbyshire, said: “The word ‘legend’ is often over-used in sport, but Ben really is one – a determined yet unassuming, modest, often under-recognised legend in this nation’s sporting history. He has been a talismanic figure in the RYA’s Olympic programme for over 16 years, through his successes inspiring new waves of sailors to get involved in the sport, and passing on his tireless work ethic and campaign skills to other young talents, who will look to follow in his footsteps and take on the challenge of keeping GBR a leading light in Olympic sailing in the years to come.”

Stephen Park, RYA Olympic Manager, added: “From our side, the door is always open for Ben to return if he feels that gold in Rio is a viable prospect, but we wish him every success with JPMorgan Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) and his uncompromising focus on an America’s Cup-winning campaign.”

Written by: Gael Pawson
Gael Pawson is the editor of Yachts & Yachting Magazine and the founder of Creating Waves. A keen racer, she has sailed all her life, and started writing about the subject whilst studying journalism at university. Dinghies and small keelboats are her first loves, but she has cruised and raced a huge variety of boats in locations across the world.