Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor in history, has accepted the prestigious Magnus Olsson Award and revealed that new Volvo Ocean Race-winning skipper, Ian Walker, was a big inspiration at the start of his stellar career.
The prize is awarded annually in the memory of Olsson, one of the most recognisable figures in offshore sailing and a six-time competitor in the sport’s leading round-the-world race.
Four-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Ben followed Brazilian Torben Grael, the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09 champion, as recipient of the prize given to the sailor who has made the biggest contribution to the sport in the past year.
Olsson’s example led countless young sailors into entering the sport and he was in the process of coaching the all-female crew of Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) in 2013 when he died suddenly of a stroke, aged 64.
Sir Ben, who is spearheading a British tilt to win the America’s Cup for the first time for his country, in 2017, paid tribute to the Swede.
“Mange was an absolutely fantastic sailor but also a fantastic person, always inspiring young people into the sport and his foundation is continuing that work. Along with many other people I’m really proud to be supporting this,” he said.
He continued: ‘Young people are the future of the sport so it’s absolutely critical that we inspire them, support them, make the sport attractive so that they want to get into it and see the Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cup as competitions they want to aspire to and do well in.
“The sport is doing a really good job at that at the moment.”
Sir Ben also revealed that Walker, 45, who was in the same British Olympic teams in 1996 and 2000, had fired his own ambition. Walker, skipper of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, won silver medals in both those Games.
“It was absolutely fantastic to see Ian Walker leading Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing to winning this race. I’ve known Ian my entire career. As I started out in Olympic sailing, he was really an inspiration for me, being that bit more advanced in the Olympic programme.
He also predicted that the success of Team SCA in the 12th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, which came to a conclusion on Saturday with the Inmarsat In-Port Race Gothenburg, would inspire a new generation of young girls to take up sailing.
“Sailing is one of those great sports in which women can be competitive – from a very early age in the youth classes, all the way through to Team SCA winning a leg in this Volvo Ocean Race,” he said.
“So sailing is a real equaliser as a sport, it gives women so many opportunities. We need to get more girls into the sport and I think Team SCA’s performance will inspire a whole new generation to get into sailing.”
Two young Swedish sailors, Lovisa Karlsson, and Emil Järudd, won prizes too for their achievements in 2014-15 and have been invited to visit Sir Ben’s newly built training base in Portsmouth, England, to sail under his guidance.
Karlsson, 20, is a Laser sailor with her sights set firmly on the 2020 Olympics. In her first senior international competitions in 2014, she qualified for the gold final at the World Cup in Hyeres and the European Championships in Split in 2014.
Järudd, 17, competed in three Optimist World Championships before sailing in the 29er class. Together with Fabian Bergman, he competed in his first ISAF Youth World Championship qualifiers last September. He plans to step up to the 49er class with the aim of competing at the 2020 Olympics.