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Ben Ainslie’s Olympics: Retribution Done Right

At the 2012 Olympics, Great Britain's Ben Ainslie climbed to the top of sailing's all-time medal table, thanks in part to a perceived slight by two competitors. Starting Line, October 2012.

November 6, 2012
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Ben Ainslie Olympics 2012

Ben Ainslie Olympics 2012

Great Britain’s Ben Ainslie had his eyes set on defeating fleet leader Jonas Hoegh-Christensen in the Finn medal race and capturing his fourth gold medal. Daniel Forster

Eight months removed from a temper tantrum that nearly cost him his chance to compete at the 2012 Olympics, Ben Ainslie was once again fuming over an on-course incident. This time, however, the stage was the Olympic regatta, his anger was directed toward his competitors, and instead of physically confronting them—like he did a camera boat driver during the 2011 ISAF Worlds—he issued a verbal warning and set about his revenge in a more appropriate manner.

The trigger was a leeward mark rounding during Race 8. At the time, Ainslie was in the fight of his life for the Finn gold medal. Danish sailor Jonas Hoegh-Christensen had won three of the first seven races and beaten Ainslie in six. There was also something poetic in Hoegh-Christensen standing between Ainslie and his bid to overtake Paul Elvström, also a Dane, as the most decorated Olympic sailor.

In Race 8, Hoegh-Christensen, Ainslie, and Pieter-Jan Postma, of the Netherlands, rounded the leeward mark within three seconds of each other. Both Hoegh-Christensen and Postma felt that Ainslie touched the mark and called for him to take a penalty. Sure he hadn’t, but knowing two-against-one would spell almost certain defeat in the protest room, Ainslie did his turn. He would recover to third, passing Hoegh-Christensen on the final run. But that did little to soothe his anger.

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“They’ve made a big mistake,” Ainslie said after racing. “They’ve made me angry; you don’t want to make me angry.”

Hoegh-Christensen was adamant that he and Postma were acting independently. “If he really thinks we ganged up on him, he should protest us for bad sportsmanship,” he said. “Nobody gangs up on nobody, and to be fair, if he thinks that, he is the bad sportsman.”

But the damage was done. In Race 10, Ainslie powered away from the fleet like a man possessed. Hoegh-Christensen was third, putting Ainslie just two points behind with only the medal race remaining. Hoegh-Christensen was able to fend off Ainslie during the start of the medal race, but the Brit turned a bit of pre-race course research into a lead at the first mark and, eventually, his fourth gold medal.

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