Commander of the seas
Sir Charles Benedict Ainslie is the most decorated sailor in Olympic history, with four gold medals and one silver from five editions of the Games. In 2013, he received a knighthood from the Queen for services to sport.
From the tender age of eight, Ben Ainslie showed a natural aptitude as a sailor, spending much of his childhood out on a boat with his parents in his native Cornwall, in the south west of England. It wasn’t long before he was competing, and in 1993, aged just 16, he claimed the first of his 11 world titles, in the Laser Class. Three years later he made his maiden Olympic appearance at Atlanta 1996, taking the Laser silver medal. At Sydney 2000, Ainslie went one better, securing the first of his Olympic golds, before deciding to switch to Finn Class, which meant he had to put on an extra 18kg to reach the ideal weight in the single-handed dinghy. It was in this class that the British sailor would dominate at the next three editions of the Games, first at Agios Kosmas Olympic Sailing Centre at Athens 2004, then in Beijing’s Quingdao Bay in 2008, and finally, on home waters off the coast of Weymouth in 2012, where he claimed his fourth gold medal.
Man of records
With four golds and one silver, Ben Ainslie is the most successful Olympian in his sport. He is also, with Brazilian duo Robert Scheidt and Torben Grael, one of just three sailors to win medals at five successive Olympic Games. But the superlatives do not end there. His 11 world titles, won in the Laser between 1993 and 1999, and then in Finn from 2002 to 2012 also represent an achievement that has never been equalled.
When the Olympic torch arrived on British soil on 19 May 2012 ahead of the London Games, Ainslie was, fittingly, asked to be the first bearer, and he was also chosen to be the flag-bearer for the GB delegation at the Closing Ceremony. In 2009 he was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE), and then, after winning his fourth Olympic gold in London, he received a knighthood in 2013. He has donated the boats in which he won each of his Olympic titles to the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall, where they can be admired by the general public. He is now focusing on a new challenge: winning the America’s Cup, the oldest trophy in sport. During the first ever edition of that illustrious race in 1851, Queen Victoria allegedly asked one of her attendants who was in second place; she was told: “Your Majesty, there is no second.” That could have been a motto penned specially for Ainslie.