For Ben Ainslie, Britain's most successful Olympic sailor, the voyage to the choppy waters of Qingdao began one frosty Christmas morning at the age of eight, when he awoke to find his first dinghy waiting for him on the lawn outside. Yesterday, he won his third consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Sailing is in the Ainslies' blood. His father, Roddy, was only a weekend yachtie when he entered the first Whitbread Round-the-World Race in 1973, finishing fourth. Roddy and his wife, Susan, moved their young family from Cheshire to the South-west, and the rest has gone down in nautical history. "It is a shame they were weren't here, but huge thanks to them," Ainslie said yesterday.
Off the water, Ainslie, 31, is courteous and polite. On it, it is an entirely different matter. The Brazilian Robert Scheidt learnt this the hard way.
After beating him in Atlanta, he was forced into an error by Ainslie which led to his disqualification in Sydney. In Sao Paulo, they burnt effigies of the Englishman.
Ainslie has no time for sportsmen who like to boast or those who consider themselves celebrities. "I'm not a footballer. I wouldn't take too kindly to people photographing me constantly, snooping through my dustbin. I'm a very private person," he said.
Perhaps one reason is his relationship with a German sailing PR executive. "She understands the issues I have and constraints I'm under. It's working well."
His success in Beijing now makes it almost certain he will want to sail in front of a home crowd at Weymouth in 2012. But before that there is the small matter of winning the America's Cup next year.