Golden afterglow: What now for the heroes and heroines of Sydney?

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The Coxless Four: One out, one in and two maybes

The Coxless Four: One out, one in and two maybes

An olympic gold has become a particularly buoyant currency for the foursome who still ride the waves of euphoria. Suddenly, an activity once consigned to the Cinderella class has become a significant part of the nation's sporting tapestry, earning its wearers awards, a constant stream of invitations to school assemblies, and, perhaps the ultimate accolade, an appearance last week for Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent on Celebrity Ready Steady Cook. Never mind the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year. More significantly, Redgrave has been short-listed for Eve magazine's Real Man of the Year.

For the record Olympian, being assailed by the jesting presenter Ainsley Harriott is all part of Life After Rowing, which also includes lucrative motivational talks at corporate functions. But what of the remaining trio of the Famous Four, whose triumph in Sydney brought their combined career Olympic gold-medal haul to 10?

Pinsent admits that he has received at least one tempting offer which "may not be there in four years' time". The three-time gold medallist reflected as he and his girlfriend Dee prepared for the Christmas holidays at his parents' home: "It's only been 12 weeks since the Games, which isn't that long. In the great scheme of things, certainly when thinking about the next four years, that's a blink of an eye.

"Steve has raised the barrier on the age front for all of us. Thirty is not considered that old in rowing now. Steve has established two facts with his five gold medals: first, it's hard; secondly, it is do-able. Yet, frankly, I'm still undecided about where my rowing career is going, if it's going at all. To be honest, it's just not an easy decision."

Though Pinsent has been "doing bits and pieces of training", he admits that "in a way, I'm hedging my bets. If I go back, I don't want to be starting from Ground Zero. If I'm retiring, it's not such a bad plan to be doing some physical exercise anyway."

The only one definitely returning to the water is James Cracknell. Although he started a law course, with a view to going into sports law or marketing when his rowing career ends, he has had to postpone it because of all the functions. But preparations for Athens 2004 begin on New Year's Day when he departs for a training camp in Lanzarote.

Tim Foster would like to continue, too, but knows his rowing career may be curtailed by a back injury that has already required two operations. He is awaiting the result of a scan, aware that further damage could harm not just his career, but his life. "I'd be stupid to carry on risking something which could stop me leading a normal life in 20 years' time," he says. If Foster has to contemplate enforced retirement, he envisages immersing himself in a sports psychology degree, although the four's coach, Jürgen Grobler, believes that he should consider going into coaching.

For all four, however, things will never be quite the same again. Maybe in 2001, they will start to look forward, rather than constantly back? "The change of year will help," agrees Pinsent. "But I'll never stop appreciating what we did in Sydney. That will stay with me for the rest of my life." Nick Townsend

The Men's Eight: From river bank to City bank

On 8 January, Andrew Lindsay will officially swap his lycra for pinstripes. The Olympic gold medal will be stowed away in the attic for the future reference of children and grandchildren, and a new life will begin in the offices of Goldman Sachs, the City banking establishment. He cannot wait.

It was always going to be this way for the Old Etonian, who seems to have had his lifeplan mapped out from the cradle. Year 2000, aged 23: win Olympic gold; year 2001, find real life. It is no coincidence that Lindsay's true hero is Eric Liddell, because he harbours a genuinely old-fashioned notion of sport as pastime which his fellow Scot would have appreciated. Lindsay is Liddell to Redgrave's Harold Abrahams.

Since he returned from Sydney, Lindsay has done the celebrity circuit - "I didn't enjoy it much" - had a huge house party in the family seat in Argyll, cycled from Lisbon to Gibraltar, largely without maps or lights according to a fellow traveller, met Gavin Hastings, another boyhood idol, and cried unashamedly while listening to a recording of the radio commentary of his eight's finest hour. Most of all, he has tried to shuffle what he calls an "annoying piece of metal" (aka Olympic gold) into the priorities of his life. "I don't take any pleasure out of looking at it because I've seen it every day and, if I take it out, I'm frightened I'll lose it," he says. "One of my new year's resolutions is going to be not to take the medal to functions any more."

There is a lingering sense that in winning sport's ultimate prize, Lindsay has lost something far more precious. He has stepped into a boat once since Penrith and, even on days when the river glints invitingly, has not been tempted back. Yet he used to love rowing. It was the fight to get his seat in the men's eight, not the winning, which drained him of his love for the sport, he says. The constant battle to prove himself every day and the selectorial dithering, which came to a head at the end of the summer when Lindsay, with two of the other fringe-squad members, called a meeting to demand a final decision. He will row again, he thinks, but in the fullness of time, at some old boys' reunion when he is carrying a pound or two overweight.

Yet, there are compensations. Lindsay lost three Boat Races, one as president of Oxford, failures which can now be officially erased. "I don't need to prove myself any more," he says. "I've laid that demon to rest. I can remember thinking when I went to be interviewed for my job back in February, 'Why would they want to employ a pipsqueak moron like me?' Now I can go into a room, look anyone in the eye and not get cowed because he's made some deal worth $10bn. I've got something he's not got. I wouldn't say that, of course, but I won't be intimidated.

"Sometimes, I do catch myself smirking and thinking, 'I really did do that, you know.' I just feel incredibly lucky. I got to an Olympics, which was my ambition. Somehow I managed to win gold. They were an amazing Olympics and I was the only one in the crew who had his future sorted out. But I'm moving on to the next stage in my life now, I've closed the door on rowing." Andrew Longmore

Cyclist Jason Queally: Off to the land of the rising status

When they announce him as Olympic champion, Jason Queally still needs a nudge. More than three months after his golden night at the Dunc Gray velodrome in Bankstown, Queally cannot quite believe it. Olympic champion? Me? Surely not. His bank account provides resolute proof that the road to riches is not necessarily paved with Olympic gold, as some had suggested.

"Just plodding on," he says. But he has been recognised on the Tube a couple of times, which is some compensation. Of all the British gold medals in Sydney, those of Queally and Stephanie Cook were the least expected. It was not that the 30-year-old was far off the pace in his discipline, just that in Arnaud Tournant, the kilo time-trial had its cast-iron Olympic champion. The Frenchman was so dominant that, the week before the Games, Queally was talking only in terms of winning bronze. Silver was a distant dream; gold was out of the question. Now, Athens, that might be different. So even when Queally posted a competitive time, he thought only about bronze. Barely 10 minutes later, he was Olympic champion. "Bizarre," he mutters. "I don't know if it ever will sink in." 2000 was also the year he became national champion for the first time.

The following night, he added silver to his collection in the Olympic sprint. So what has changed? Queally has now employed an agent, not to sort out the multi-million pound deals, you understand, but to generate some extra income and sift out the dinner invitations. Queally has rightly been fêted within and outside his sport. "Jason somebody or other" - as one member of the British squad described him - kickstarted Britain's gold rush in Sydney, prompted a re-evaluation of ambitions. If the former plant technician from Lancaster University could win gold, why not us? For that reason alone, Queally has a valid claim to be athlete of the year.

The one drawback to the new-found celebrity is that his bike has stayed too long in the bikeshed. He was hoping to get back to his profession over Christmas, but Grandstand wanted him as their guest. And one thing and another.

"I've done a lot of television and radio, which I've enjoyed, and I've met the Queen a few times," he says, laughing at the nonchalance of his name-dropping. "But at some point I'm going to have to get back on my bike. I'm still as passionate about the bike as before and I believe there's more to come."

In March, Queally will head to Japan for two months for the Kierin season, one of the few lucrative contracts generated by his Olympic success. In Japan, Kierin racing, where cyclists are paced by motorbikes, is curiously big business. But, first, he has to go to Kierin School to learn the art of a highly specialised discipline. Then he will set his sights on the world championships in the autumn.

His lasting reflection from Sydney is of steaming under the Harbour Bridge on a boat hired by the British Olympic Association and in the company of Princess Anne and the track cycling team. "The lasers over the water, the bridge, the Opera House, it was awesome," he recalls. "We doubted whether life could get any better." Andrew Longmore

Boxer Audley Harrison: World in palm of his hand

Though he was a bit of a bad lad, with a spell in a young offenders' institution after running with street gangs, Audley Harrison's is not a rags-to-Rocky story. His family certainly were not on the breadline, and while he admits to being fascinated by the movie, his dream has been far more calculated.

Harrison was telling us, Ali-fashion, a couple of years ago that he would win Britain's first Olympic gold boxing medal for 32 years. "Oh yeah," we thought. "Let's see what happens when some big Russian hits him on the chin." It never happened. Instead it was an even bigger Audley who did the clobbering, and once the Russian was out of the way the superheavyweight gold was always within Harrison's southpaw reach. Now the world is his oyster and the world professional heavyweight championship his attainable goal.

As he has been insisting with typical lucidity, the Paul Ingle tragedy will not deter him. "I am not going in with my eyes closed. I weighed up the risks when I witnessed Michael Watson's brush with death against Chris Eubank. There is a risk in everything."

Heavyweight boxing desperately needs Harrison. There are no youngsters waiting to succeed Lewis, Holyfield and Tyson, all well the wrong side of 30. Harrison himself may only just be the right side of 30: late-ish, though not too late, to turn pro, but he has a charisma and a vocabulary the heavyweight division hasn't enjoyed since Ali.

A nasty knuckle injury to his left hand, which has required surgery in the United States, has given him a window since Sydney through which he has been able to contemplate his future and talk serious money to just about every top manager, trainer and promoter here and across the Atlantic. He has also spoken to the BBC about the possibility of becoming the central figure in Greg Dyke's dream of restoring boxing to their sporting portfolio, though trade whispers suggest he may be over-reaching and out-pricing himself in his determination to ensure he doesn't end up losing his money, or marbles.

"In life you don't always get what you are worth. You get what you negotiate, and that's why I am doing my own negotiating. I'm not going to get ripped off. You have to control the controllables and sadly, a lot of boxers can't. When you let others into your life it is easy for the power to get taken away from you. I intend to control the whole picture."

That picture should see the plaster taken off his hand next month ready to start punching the heavy bag in mid-February, shortly after an announcement about who, and for whom, he will be fighting in April. His professional debut will be in Britain. "I realise I may have to go back and forth to America, but I'm a black Briton and proud of it and I definitely intend staying here."

He wants to be challenging for the world title within four years. "I'm going to give it my best shot," he says. "But if I don't reach that goal I shall have no qualms about walking away from boxing. Whatever happens I plan to get out after six years as there are things I want to do when I've finished."

So how does Harrison see himself 25 years on? "Not sure, really. Maybe a sporting politician. But I can definitely see myself at 55 being in a good position, and still with teeth." Alan Hubbard

Heptathlete Denise Lewis: Destination Edmonton

The schedule Denise Lewis has undertaken since striking gold in Sydney 12 weeks ago has been suitably hectic for someone whose sporting speciality happens to involve the tackling of seven separate events in two days.

The Olympic heptathlon champion has been honoured at a civic reception in Birmingham, received the freedom of Wolverhampton, accepted an Aladdin's Cave of awards (from Birchfield Harriers' Athlete of the Year to BBC Sports Personality of the Year runner-up), attended a reception at Buckingham Palace, supported charity functions throughout the country, modelled in New York, appeared on The Frank Skinner Show and made a guest half-time appearance at the closing match at Wembley. She has also had a mountain of mail to respond to.

Only now is the West Midlands wonder woman turning her thoughts back to the track- and-field arena and the future. It was always part of her coach Charles van Commonee's grand plan that Lewis would take a prolonged break - to recharge her batteries fully after the monumental effort that won her the gold medal in Stadium Australia and to allow the injuries she carried through there time to heal.

The Achilles that was strapped up in Sydney has duly recovered, but the damaged foot that was encased in a white surgical boot is, Lewis says, "still a problem". On 1 January, though, Lewis will return to training far from the madding crowd of British back-slappers, in Stellenbosch. This week the 28-year-old Birchfield Harrier heads for South Africa to link up with the group of athletes coached by Van Commonee, the technical director of the Dutch athletics federation.

She will return to the training track as only the sixth female British track-and-field Olympic champion, having followed in the golden footsteps of Mary Rand, Ann Packer, Mary Peters, Tessa Sanderson and Sally Gunnell. She will do so, however, with a vital hunger for more.

"To be world champion would be nice," Lewis said. "I have been Commonwealth, European and now Olympic champion, so there is only one missing. It would also be great to top 7,000 points. Only two athletes have gone over that score." Both targets are within Lewis' scope. She proved in considerably less than ideal circumstances in Sydney just what a formidable competitor she happens to be - too strong for Eunice Barber, the naturalised Frenchwoman who was so impressive in beating her to the world title in Seville in 1999 but who, after a troubled Olympic build-up, limped out after the first event on the second day, when the going gets tough.

The news that Barber has moved to the United States to train with Bob Kersee - who guided his wife, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, to the world record heptathlon score, 7,291 points, and who has also nurtured Gail Devers, the 100m hurdles world champion - will probably provide Lewis with further determination to succeed at the world championships in Edmonton in August rather than intimidate her in her hard-earned new position as the global leader of her event.

"It's going to be difficult for Denise," Van Commonee cautioned. "In terms of motivation, it is always better to be theNo 2."

After two world championships as No 2, though, Lewis still has one burning golden ambition to fulfil. Simon Turnbull

Sailor Shirley Robertson: The wait by the phone

Of all of the British sailing gold medallists, Shirley Robertson has found her life most changed by the Games. "It's been mad since Sydney and I'm only now just about reaching the 'what to do next' stage," she says.

Robertson has been doing the rounds of parties and openings, and describes the women's world match-racing championship in Florida in November, where she finished fourth, as "the only sane bit" of the last three months.

"The nicest invitation was the Scotland v Australia rugby match at Murrayfield, where all of the Scottish medallists paraded around the field and I got to carry the flag. The biggest honour was being named Female World Sailor of the Year."

But while Robertson has been fêted in some of the most unusual circumstances, the future is less certain. The irony of the situation is that, while being a female gold medallist has brought the rounds of openings, the path to the future is much less certain.

In Britain there is a buzz surrounding an America's Cup challenge, and already a British team have been announced for the Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup next year. British sailing is on a high. But so far Shirley Robertson's phone has not rung.

"Boys like to sail with boys," she says ruefully. "You'll rarely be asked. And it's difficult to see where I would fit into these projects that are going on, because I am a good steerer but I don't really have the right physique to do anything else."

So the options are to go back to the Olympics or to try and forge a new project of her own. "All of us who sail like to do new things and meet new challenges," she says. But the prospect of following in the footsteps of a person like American Dawn Riley, who developed her appointment as skipper of an all-female Whitbread campaign in 1989 into the leadership of an America's Cup campaign, is a daunting one. "It's a big job, doing all the organisation," says Robertson, mindful of the level of management organisation and expertise needed to get a big campaign up and running.

And while she is totally respectful of Ellen MacArthur, who is mixing it with the front- runners right now in the Southern Ocean in the Vendée Globe single-handed around the world race, she is certain that route is not for her.

And to retread the boards in the class where she won her gold medal is also an unappealing option. "There's no way I could go back to the Europe," she says, which leaves the new women's class at the Olympics, the keelboat.

In November the Yngling was voted into the Olympic fleet as the new women's boat, and while there are pockets of popularity of that class around the world, there are very few, if any, even sailing in Britain. "I could go to the gym and rock up and finish top five in the Europe class at the next Games. With the Yngling it's a completely new class which I know nothing about, and we would have to start from the beginning. We would have to start revving it up next year."

There have been calls from broadcasters with television projects, there are other offers off the water, and in the spring Robertson will be getting married. But presenter, housewife and ex-sailor is not an option Robertson can envisage, at least not now.

So if the America's Cup or Admiral's Cup calls do not come in, all the signs so far seem to be pointing towards Athens and 2004. Andrew Preece

Triple Jumper Jonathan Edwards: It's time to jump for joy

The hair remains a silvery shade of grey, but the furrows on the brow have disappeared. So has the burden he carried on his shoulders. With one hop, one step and one jump one memorable Monday night in Stadium Australia, Jonathan Edwards shook off the weight of five years' expectation.

It had been with him since the summer he took triple jumping into uncharted territory with his 18-metre efforts. Having finally gained an Olympic gold to match his standing as the most accomplished triple jumper of all time, the Gateshead Harrier has allowed gravity to give way to equanimity in his expressive features. At 34, instead of slipping into retirement he is looking forward to jumping for sheer enjoyment again.

Formally, Edwards has been given the freedom of Gateshead since returning from Sydney. Informally, he has been enjoying his freedom of the track-and-field world, preparing for 2001 with renewed relish. "It will be fantastic to go out and compete without any pressure," he said. "I am going to enjoy myself, knowing that a weight has been lifted off my shoulders after winning in Sydney."

Within a month of his return from the Olympics, Edwards was back in training at Gateshead Stadium. He intends to compete indoors in the new year, and has at least one new target in his sights. "It would be great to add the world indoor record to my list," he said. The mark stands at 17.83m, and was set by the Cuban Aliecer Urrutia in Sindelfingen three years ago. Edwards' outdoor world record is 18.29m. His best this year was 17.71m.

He is also likely to challenge for the world indoor title in Lisbon in March. He has yet to win a medal of any description from the world indoor championships, though his prime motivation this year will be to regain the outdoor world crown at Edmonton in August.

Not that Edwards will be distraught if he fails to remain on the gold standard. "I foresee the next one, two, three, four years, however long, as enjoyment - cherry-picking five, six competitions a year and hopefully doing the major Games," he said. "I just want to have fun. If I lose, I lose.

"Mind, if Larry [Achike] and Phillips [Idowu] start kicking my butt on a regular basis, that will send me into retirement pretty quickly. I mean, I can't rest on my laurels at home. They jumped fantastically in Sydney. To get three men in the top six... if there had been a team event for triple jumping we'd have all gone home with gold medals."

This year Achike and Idowu have both taken significant steps up the world order in Edwards' wake. Achike improved from 17.10m to 17.30m, won at European Cup level and finished fifth in Sydney. Idowu improved his personal best from 16.41m to 17.12m and placed sixth in the Olympic final. At 25 and 23 respectively, the young Londoners have time on their side and, it would seem, room for still more improvement.

Their competitive battles with the Olympic champion promise to be one of the British highlights of the 2001 track-and- field season. And then there is 2002 and the Commonwealth Games in Manchester to relish.

Olympic gold might be the crowning jewel in Edwards' medal collection, but he hasyet to bring his Midas touch to bear on the Commonwealth stage. Simon Turnbull

Sailor Iain Percy: Search for new class act

While Ben Ainslie and Shirley Robertson were the familiar faces in the world of Olympic sailing in the lead-up to the Sydney Games, Iain Percy, for many people, was the golden boy who came from nowhere.

Percy burst into the Finn class having helped Richard Stenhouse tune up for Atlanta in 1996 and proceeded to take first British and then world Finn sailing by storm. But although it might have seemed to the outside world that Percy was new to the top level, he had served his apprenticeship in the shadow of Ainslie in the Laser class, where the nature of the boat always allowed Ainslie to shine.

Percy opted out of the Laser class and immediately found his Olympic footing in the Finn, and now the friendship the pair forged down the years of youth sailing could be translated into a formidable partnership - but only if the two are able to find a suitable situation that will allow them to pair up.

Percy crewed for Ainslie in the twin-trapeze Laser 5000 class a few years ago, and despite the fact that Ainslie had never steered and trapezed simultaneously before, the duo showed sufficient glimpses of form after just a small amount of practice to conclude that a partnership could go further than simply friends sailing together.

The problem, in Olympic terms at least, is what class to choose. The Soling class has now gone from the Games, so the most compelling option is now not possible, and it is difficult to see which other class could be matched to their weights and physiques; in the Star, Percy is too small to run the front of an Ainslie boat. The Olympic irony is therefore that once again the two friends could be pitched against one another if, as is possible, both choose to take to the Star with their own campaigns.

But like Ainslie, who has the luxury of many options, the future for Percy in British sailing is bright. His newly formed company, Competitive Sailing, has given him a platform for a coaching career that will see him train youth sailors in Britain, bringing in his friends from the Olympic classes - Ainslie and others - to coach up to 150 young sailors at a time; coaching being the financial foundation upon which many international sailing careers are founded. And like Ainslie, Percy has been offered Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup rides which he has yet to accept.

In the America's Cup arena the future is not so obvious. The irony of the surfeit of British medals garnered at a vintage Sydney is that there is a queue of helmsmen lining up to grab the British wheel should there be one. And, despite a stunning performance in Sydney, the powers that be might decide that Percy's talent would be better deployed elsewhere on the boat; a previous Finn gold medallist, Craig Monk, sailed as a grinder in the two victorious New Zealand America's Cup crews in San Diego and Auckland.

So while the long-term goal is for Percy and Ainslie to team up to take on challenges such as the America's Cup, the Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup or the Volvo Ocean Race, both are aware that as singlehanded sailors they need to widen the range of their team skills in other arenas before convening to take on the world. In the next Olympic cycle that is most likely to culminate in an Olympic trial head-to-head as the pair fight for the one Star berth for the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. Andrew Preece

Modern Pentathlete Stephanie Cook: Strength of surgical spirit

It was just a few days before Christmas and the Olympic modern pentathlon champion was up to her armpits in envelopes. Not dashing off late greetings cards to her many friends, but thank-you notes to the even larger number of fans who have written since that fateful Sunday afternoon in Sydney when she brilliantly rounded off the greatest Games Britain has enjoyed in three-quarters of a century.

The golden moment, Britain's 11th in Sydney, has produced hundreds of letters, "too many to count", and they are still coming, some addressed simply "Stephanie Cook, Bath". She is determined to reply to every one.

"I'm absolutely shattered," she said. "I'm sitting here ploughing through mounds of paperwork and stuff. I haven't got a secretary, so I reply to all the letters myself. If people are kind enough to write then they deserve a reply. And that's besides everything else, all the requests to go here, do that TV show, meet so-and-so."

She says she actually re-members thinking as she was running into the home straight: "Do I really want this to happen to me? My life's never going to be the same again." In her first two days back from Sydney she had 80 requests for personal appearances, from quiz shows to photo-shoots. "It's been non-stop ever since, about a dozen a day." But now it does have to stop.

"It has been surreal, if enjoyable in many ways, having your life turned upside down. It's been such a whirl that it's not been easy to comprehend what's been going on. But I'm still the same person, with the same friends, the same goals and the same determination to return to my work in medicine, which I love. It's been wonderful, but sometimes you just want to walk away from it, but you simply can't."

However, she is taking a break over Christmas. "I'll be going home to Newmarket to see my mother. I'll be putting my feet up."

The new year will see the 28-year-old Cook back in training at Bath University. "It is then that I shall have to start saying no to things. Going back to full-time training will restore some semblance of normality to my life. My focus will be on the world championships, which are going to be held in this country, at Millfield, next July. I'm also going for the European championships."

But after that she will be knuckling down to a career in surgery, as she always intended. She has no plans to defend her Olympic title in Athens. "I can't believe that all this has been blown up as it has. I've never said anything different. Suddenly, it's oh my gosh, I'm quitting. But what I haven't ruled out is taking part in the team event if they include one in Athens. That could be ideal for me."

Although the fame which sits rather uneasily on her shoulders has also brought her a few bob to supplement her annual £16,000 Lottery grant, and she has swapped her H-reg Polo for a sponsored silver Mercedes, she still had to pay her £20 sub to the Modern Pentathlon Association this month in order to compete in next year's events.

"I am just one of the squad and just because I won a gold medal it doesn't mean to say I should get special treatment. People forget I only ever took up pentathlon as a hobby. Others may view me as a celebrity now, but I see myself as a doctor, I always have." Alan Hubbard

Sailor Ben Ainslie: Big break on the horizon

The manner in which Ben Ainslie won his gold medal in Sydney could prove the defining moment in the shaping of the future of a man who made his name in the Laser dinghy class through the past two Olympics.

Few with a feel for sailing can forget his match race against the reigning Olympic champion, Robert Scheidt, as Ainslie chose the impossible option in his bid to secure Olympic gold. Rather than try to win the race, Ainslie chose to take on the best Laser sailor in the world and to force him to finish outside the top 20. The fact that Ainslie was able to achieve this, and with it take gold, had match racers all over the world watching in awe.

Because in professional sailing, the America's Cup is the biggest opportunity in the game. And America's Cup racing is one-on-one match racing. If the key figures in world sailing had not previously considered Ainslie as a person who could take on Russell Coutts and beat him at the helm of an America's Cup boat, that final Laser race in Sydney will have opened a few eyes.

Like Shirley Robertson in the Europe, Ainslie has now finished with and ticked off the single-handed Laser class. A silver in Savannah and a gold in Sydney make an interesting contrast with his rival Scheidt, whose gold in Savannah was followed by a Sydney silver. There is no question that it is Ainslie's star which is in the ascendancy.

With the Star retained as an Olympic class for Athens, all the British Olympic talk is of Ainslie making a move to the two-person boat for his next Olympic campaign.

But Athens is four years away, and more immediate offers have been flooding in. While he is publicly associated with the Barlo Plastics Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup campaign for Cowes next summer, where he will steer the boat under the captaincy of Adrian Stead, little can be said about America's Cup plans - although much has been happening behind the scenes.

Ainslie has been invited by the Australian Peter Gilmour to join his United States America's Cup campaign - he is in New Zealand negotiating with Gilmour at the moment - and has until March to take up overseas residency in orderto accept any offers from syndicates outside of the United Kingdom.

Which could be good timing, because there are movements on the America's Cup scene in this country that will need to be resolved before then, and they could see Ainslie announced as the helmsman of a British challenger. While no one will confirm that a British challenge even exists, let alone define details like crew lists, that final Olympic race in Sydney showed that Ainslie, with his skill, his focus, and now his ability to keep the best in the world at bay, would be a natural choice to take the wheel.

But with British America's Cup negotiations at a sensitive stage and with everybody crossing their fingers that a challenge will actually happen, Ainslie will not be drawn. "I'd like to do an America's Cup campaign because that is the natural progression for me," is all he will say.

He will also concede that he would prefer to take a British option than a potentially bigger-money overseas transfer. In the world of sport, gold medals are currency, and none in British sailing right now is more valuable than Ben Ainslie's. Andrew Preece

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