BEN AINSLIE proved beyond doubt today he is the supreme yachtsman of our time when he capped a challenging sailing year by being named the British Yachtsman of the Year, for an unprecedented sixth time.
The title, awarded by the Yachting Journalists’ Association in association with yacht insurers Pantaenius UK, caps his 2012 honours. His successes peaked with winning his fourth Olympic gold medal at Weymouth and Portland in the London 2012 Olympics, becoming ISAF world sailing champion, and receiving a knighthood in recognition of his services to sailing in the New Year’s Honours.
Ben flew to San Francisco hours before the announcement to join the Oracle Team USA, the defender of the America’s Cup. He is also preparing for the next America’s Cup World Series regatta at Naples in April with his J P Morgan/Ben Ainslie Racing Team. YJA chairman Bob Fisher and Lady Pippa Blake, who was to present the award, caught up with him just before leaving, at the Royal Lymington Yacht Club. However, he joined the awards luncheon and ceremony at Trinity House in London today via a live television link from the team’s base in California.
He told Mr Fisher that 2012 had been quite a year with many highlights, but said the Olympic regatta had been the toughest. “I thought I might have left it too late,” he admitted, “but it was all down to a match race with Jonas (Hogh-Christensen) in the medal race, and I seem to enjoy those!”
Ben has now been at the top of his sport for 20 years, enduring enormous self-sacrifice in his quest for perfection. This pursuit involves never giving an inch in the interminable training sessions and an utterly relentless year-round competition schedule. During his remarkable career, Ben has now claimed four Olympic gold medals and one silver medal, nine European titles and ten world championships going back to 1993. Few sportsmen in any discipline have stayed at the forefront of their careers for such a sustained period.
Ben also won the Finn Gold Cup for a record sixth year, and this time on his home waters of Falmouth. Ben concluded his year by being named ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year. Ben has also been voted YJA Yachtsman of Year on five previous occasions, either as an individual or as part of an Olympic team. Ben grew up and learned to sail in Restronguet, and now lives in Lymington.
Members of the Yachting Journalists’ Association voted him as the yachtsman most deserving the title in the closest of ballots, narrowly ahead of finalists – Paralympic gold medallist Helena Lucas MBE, a member of the Royal Southampton Yacht Club, and the four times match racing world champion Ian Williams, also from Lymington.
Ben said his aim was to lead a British team for the next America’s Cup series, wherever that would be held. “It has been a long-held ambition to be part of the team that returns the Cup to Britain after more than a 160-year absence.
At Trinity House, the YJA also made a Special Award to David Howlett, MBE, the Olympic team coach, for his outstanding dedication to improving the performance of many of Britain’s top sailors for many years. It also posthumously presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to Henry Strzelecki , founder of Henri Lloyd, who died on Boxing Day. The award was received by his son Paul, the joint chief executive of Henri-Lloyd.
Guests were welcomed by John McCurdy, OBE, managing director, of Pantaenius UK.
The associated YJA/Pantaenius Young Sailor of the Year was announced on preview day of the Tullet Prebon London Boat Show. The winner is windsurfer Saskia Sills, aged 16, from Launceston, Cornwall. She was presented with the YJA/Pantaenius Young Sailor of the Year trophy by Bob Fisher, chairman of the Yachting Journalists’ Association.
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