Ben Ainslie selected for GB Olympic team

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The Independent Online

Ben Ainslie was today selected to compete at London 2012 - keeping him on course to fight for his fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal.

Ainslie is among 11 sailors who are the first confirmed names in Team GB's 550-strong squad for the Games.

The 34-year-old from Lymington said: "Having my selection for 2012 confirmed is obviously a big relief."

Britain's greatest Olympic sailing champion has been locked in a fierce fight for the sole spot in the Finn category since returning to the event last winter after two years away.

The likes of the improving Giles Scott, Ed Wright, Mark Andrews and Andrew Mills, were all realistic choices for Olympic selection after Ainslie's plans to sail big boats and win the America's Cup were scuppered.

Ainslie continued: "Previous qualification experiences helped, but at the same time having the Olympics in the UK puts that added bit of pressure on. We all want to compete on home waters.

"The competition was strong. Having four top GB sailors battling for qualification meant I had to be at my best in every race.

"Certainly that is a credit to those guys, how well they were sailing and how they pushed me all the way in every event.

"It's now all about getting the plans right for my fitness and preparation to peak at the right time, you don't want to reach burnout and the Olympics are the end goal."

The sailors who got their Olympic call-up include:

::Ben Ainslie in the Finn;

::Paul Goodison, the defending champion in the Laser;

::Bryony Shaw - RSX women's windsurfing;

::Nick Dempsey - RSX men's windsurfing;

::Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson, the defending champions in the Star;

::Hannah Mills, Saskia Clark in the women's 470 race;

::Lucy Macgregor, Kate Macgregor and Annie Lush in the Elliott 6m, Women's Match Racing.

The Macgregors are the first sisters in British sailing history to be picked for Team GB.

Overall, the team has a mix of experience and fresh talent with an eye on Rio 2016.

There are strong hopes of Britain retaining its place as the top Olympic sailing nation at Weymouth and Portland.

Valuable early selection is reward for a "fantastic year of performances", Team GB sailing leader Stephen Park said.

Now the headache of qualification is out of the way, they can concentrate on supercharging their detailed plans for 2012.

Selection trials are going on in the 470 men's event, the 49er and the Laser Radial.

Two-time Olympic champion Percy, 35, of Emsworth, said: "That's the first hurdle over, but really ever since Beijing we've been focusing on July 29 2012 and all the hard work over the past few years has been to make sure we're in the best possible shape come that day.

"I'm really proud to be representing Team GB at my fourth Olympics. It's every athlete's dream to win an Olympic medal at home - so we'll be giving it our all to be up there on the podium again next year."

Simpson, 34, of Sherborne, described London 2012 selection as a "special moment" but noted "it's just a means to an end".

He said: "We want to be there on the start line in 2012 with a real shot at retaining our gold, so everything we've been working on since Beijing 2008 has been geared towards optimising our racing, our equipment and ourselves towards the challenges we expect from Weymouth as a venue."

Sheffield-born Goodison, 33, is looking forward to home advantage and competing in front of his family and friends.

"We spent a lot of time training out there in Weymouth and hopefully this will pay dividends next year."

Shaw, 28, of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, won bronze in Beijing 2008, and is brimming with confidence that improvements since then are not about to stop.

Being part of such a strong team helps.

She said: "My windsurfing has transformed. Everything is on track and we're pretty confident there are some more gains to be made on the physiological side."

Dempsey, 31, of Weymouth, won this year's key Skandia Sail for Gold regatta on the 2012 waters and also believes there is more to come.

The bronze medallist at Athens 2004 described the 2012 Olympics as "just everything to me", adding: "I've performed really well in Weymouth this year but there are still some big gains to be made, so everything for me is about preparing for Weymouth and fine-tuning everything - learning more, getting fitter, stronger and faster."