British sailor Ainslie calls time on Olympic career
LONDON (AFP) –
The most successful Olympic sailor, Britain’s Ben Ainslie, on Tuesday confirmed that he will not defend his title at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro to focus instead on a new challenge in the America’s Cup.
“It fills me with both relief and sadness to write these words but I can now officially confirm that I have donned by Team GB tracksuit for the last time,” the quadruple gold medallist and multiple world champion wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
“No more Olympic villages. No more opening or closing ceremonies. After almost 20 years entirely dedicated to the pursuit of gold, taking in five Olympic campaigns, I have decided I will not attempt a sixth at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.”
Ainslie has been described by International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, who also competed in the event, as “the greatest sailor of all time”.
The 35-year-old began his career in Atlanta in 1996, winning silver in the Laser class, then upgraded that to gold in Sydney four years later.
He then moved to the Finn class and won gold in Athens, Beijing and London.
Ainslie indicated in late August that he was finding the physical demands of the sport increasingly challenging as he got older and was unlikely to carry on for four more years.
He will be competing as part of the British JP Morgan BAR team as the America’s Cup builds towards the finals in September 2013 to be held in San Francisco.
Britain conceived the race in 1851 but have never won.
“I feel increasingly confident that we can one day challenge for the America’s Cup proper. Not at next year’s event in San Francisco — that will be too soon — but perhaps the one after that,” Ainslie said.
Ainslie’s Olympic retirement brought immediate tributes from senior figures in the sport, among them Royal Yachting Association performance director John Derbyshire, who said he had been a “talismanic figure” in spreading the popularity of the sport.
“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 said in a statement on rya.org.uk.
RYA Olympic manager Stephen Park, however, said Ainslie would always be welcomed back if he had a change of heart.
Ainslie was on Monday named in a list of nominees for the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year, alongside the likes of fellow gold medal-winning Olympians such as Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins.