Ben Ainslie, Cornwall's gold man of the sea


At the end of six thrilling and at times ill-tempered days of high-class Finn sailing a fourth gold medal for Ben Ainslie on the Weymouth waters was testimony above all to the racing heart of this grand Olympic veteran. Ainslie has now edged past the legendary Dane Paul Elvstrom as the most decorated Olympic sailor, though this was anything but a home Games procession. The reigning champion edged into the gold medal position for the first time in the whole competition with 15 minutes of the final race remaining on Sunday afternoon. Still Jonas Hogh-Christensen, the Dane who beat Ainslie in the first six races, edged closer, demonstrating his own thrilling speed upwind. Ainslie held on, though, the oldest, lightest, toughest man in the field taking the gold by a matter of seconds in the most nuanced and technically refined of wind-blown sprint finishes. "It's times like this you are supposed to come out with something clever but I can't think of anything," Ainslie said afterwards. "I am speechless. I am just so glad for everyone who has supported me over the last four years. It has been an amazing Olympics. You can never say never but I don't think I can sail one of these again; it's killing my body so I don't think you will see me in Rio [for the 2016 Olympics]. But it's the best way to bow out, at a home Olympics." As he crossed the finish line there were whoops of joy from the largest ever crowd for a British sailing event gathered on the grassy banks of Portland beach. Ainslie punched the air, this most competitive of sailors still bristling with adrenal triumph as Hogh-Christensen slumped against his mast. Ainslie then produced and lit a couple of orange smoke flares, technically an indication that he might be sinking but on this occasion simply the source of a rusty smog around his boat, before contenting himself with waving a cannily pre-packed union flag towards the swooning home support ranged around the Dorset coast. For Ainslie the sweetness of victory will be tempered with sheer relief. Not only has his body taken a battering in preparation for these Games. He has also lived for seven years at the peak of his profession with the continual drip-drip of home Olympic pressure. This is a man who sails out of compulsion, a semi-amphibian who calls the water "home". Raised in Restronguet, Cornwall, a child of sailors, Ainslie once went almost a year without setting foot inside his own house, locked instead into the schedule of ocean-bound global competition. There have been tremors recently, most notably disqualification from the world championships last December after Ainslie leapt into shark-friendly waters to remonstrate with an obstructive television cameraman. Perhaps a gathering tension contributed to the extraordinarily abrasive nature of the race-off for gold, a machismo of sailing conducted amid intimidatory posturing on both sides. After being accused by Hogh-Christensen of clipping a mark in an earlier race Ainslie had suggested, Hulk-like, that it was a mistake to make him angry. Hogh-Christensen, for his part, had played up his underdog status, referring slightingly to the greater financial muscle of the heavily sponsored British system (Britain are, in effect, the China of sailing) and painting himself as a kind of waterborne ewok to Ainslie's Darth Vader. At the start Ainslie became bogged down in a bizarre cat-and-mouse exercise, chasing the Dane round one of the course boats. It was only as he began to concentrate on his mastery of wind and wave that he pulled clear, detecting in typical fashion a breeze that was apparently beyond the rest of the field and producing a sudden burst of speed.