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British sailor looks to continue medal-winning ways at London Games

Ben Ainslie will attempt to capture his 4th Olympic gold medal at the London Summer Games, which start next month.

By Bernie WilsonAssociated Press / June 19, 2012

This file photo shows Britain's Ben Ainslie celebrating after winning the gold medal during the Finn sailing competition of the 2008 Beijing Olympics in Qingdao, China.

Bernat Armangue/AP/File

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Britannia still rules the waves, at least in Olympic sailing and definitely when it comes to Ben Ainslie.

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Ainslie will be one of the faces of the London Olympics, a rare instance when a sailor has attracted such attention.

The 35-year-old Ainslie will try to win his fourth straight gold medal, and fifth straight medal overall, which would make him the most successful Olympic sailor ever. If Ainslie wins at Weymouth on the English Channel, he'd match the four straight golds won by Denmark's Paul Elvstrom from 1948-60. Ainslie also has a silver medal from 1996.

One British journalist has called Ainslie "The greatest sailor Britain has seen since Nelson."

That would be Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, whose victory over the French and Spanish fleets in 1805 is celebrated in London's Trafalgar Square.

Perspective or hype? Maybe both.

Although he's living in rarefied air, Ainslie, the son of a sailor, chuckles somewhat sheepishly at the Nelson comparison.

"I mean, I've had lots of things said about me over the years, so I'll take that as a compliment," said Ainslie, whose father, Roddy, skippered a boat in the first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973-74 and helped his son turn a hobby into a dominating career. "But really, the most important thing is to just keep focused on getting results and not worry too much about what other people are saying."

Ainslie doesn't need a broadside of cannons to do his bidding. He did, however, stun the sailing world with the nautical equivalent of road rage when he grappled with a TV cameraman on a media boat at the world championships in Australia in December.

Angered by the vessel getting too close to the race and creating a wash that he felt helped one of his rivals, Ainslie jumped from his dinghy at the end of a race, swam to the TV boat, argued with the skipper, grabbed the cameraman, then dived back into the water and swam to his dinghy.

The outburst could have cost him a shot at Olympic history. Instead, various sailing governing bodies decided that being declared guilty of gross misconduct and disqualified from the regatta was punishment enough.

So when the Olympic torch relay began last month, Ainslie was the first person to carry the flame.

Ainslie is ultra-competitive — some might say merciless — and has succeeded in desperate situations that might have left others wilting at the back of the fleet.

Each Olympic gold medal has brought an honor from the royal family. Ainslie currently is a Commander of the British Empire. A fourth gold medal could lead to knighthood.

Perhaps he'll be the one to return sailing's most coveted prize, the America's Cup, to England.

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