Sports Personality of the Year: Why Ben Ainslie should win

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter

Each of the has an advocate explaining why they should win. Here, two-time Olympic champion Shirley Robertson backs fellow sailor Ben Ainslie.

"He's like Madonna or Prince. In the world of sailing he doesn't need a second name, it's just 'Ben'."

At London 2012 Ben Ainslie officially became the greatest Olympic sailor of all-time, with a fourth gold and fifth career medal taking him ahead of Denmark's Paul Elvstrom.

It was the culmination of 16 years of Olympic campaigning which began with silver back at the 1996 Games in Atlanta at the tender age of 19.

Ainslie himself has remarked that being denied victory in his maiden Games may have been key to his subsequent longevity and success in the sport, but Robertson - who first met him when he was 14 - says experts could see he was on course for stardom from a very early age.

"Even when he was really young and quite shy, he already had a kind of aura around him and people were aware he was something special," reflected Robertson.

"Ben was really focused but also could avoid all of the mistakes that usually you make at youth level.

"He was consistent. Often people said he had a sixth sense for the wind and it seemed so natural, but he was really focused, worked harder than anyone else and the expectation built from there."

Following an historic Laser victory over his Atlanta conqueror Robert Scheidt at Sydney 2000 and subsequent gold in the Finn class four years later, Ainslie was a heavy favourite ahead of both the Beijing and London Games.

The four-time World Sailor of the Year Award winner delivered on both occasions but admitted it was "never as easy" as many had predicted.

Tricky weather conditions were his main enemy in the waters of Qingdao, China, but a stronger rival and even his own body proved to be Ainslie's greatest obstacles this summer.

"He'd had a back injuryexternal-link and was racing against younger guys in the most physically demanding boat that we have so it wasn't that he was fitter or faster, but sailing is about consistency," admitted Robertson.

"Everyone thought Ben's gold medal would be a banker - from the media to the British public. Even in the wider British team he was paraded as a certainty so there was this huge shock when the great Dane [Jonas Hogh-Christensen] was ahead of him."

"Then there was that day when it just turned around."

That was on 3 August - day six of the Olympic sailing, when Ainslie famously mimicked the Incredible Hulk.

"They've made me angry and you don't want to make me angry," he said after perceiving rivals to have been conspiring against him. That added motivation helped the sailor claw his way to a fourth Olympic title.

"Any successful sportsman has the ability to control their aggression," stated two-time Olympic champion Robertson.

"I can remember him as a youngster beating the deck of his boat with his tiller in sheer frustration with himself, but those days have largely gone and that kind of controlled aggression - wanting it at all costs, is what has made him great."

She went on: "Ben's quite intimidating to race against, he's a warrior on the race course, a terrier who won't let go and he uses everything he can to win."

After admitting it would be "hard to ever top" the feeling of winning a home Olympic gold, the six-time Finn World Champion officially announced his retirement from Olympic sailing earlier this month.

Ainslie may have only attained true household recognition for his achievements over the last four years, but the sailor is proud of his role in helping the sport grow in the UK since the turn of the century.

"I think he is really inspiring to the youngsters because he didn't just go off and sail great big boats in a big flash world, he stayed with smaller boats and puts his wet-suit on, got stuck in and kids can relate to that," enthused former 'three blondes in a boat' member Robertson.

"He's been absolutely at the top of his game for such a long time.

"He's a great athlete, role-model and a winner. Even when things are hard he brings home the gold medal. So Ben would be a more than worthy winner of Sports Personality this year."

His next challenge is to end Britain's barren run in the Americas Cup which stretches back to the competition's inception back in 1851.

Ainslie has admitted it will be one of the 'toughest challenges' of his career, but as Robertson remarked, "has Ben ever failed at anything?"

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