Ben Ainslie could be first sailor to win BBC sports personality of the year

After becoming Britain’s most successful Olympic sailor and being named ISAF World Sailor of the Year, Ben Ainslie has been shortlisted for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. No sailor has ever received the accolade, awarded annually since 1954, although Ellen MacArthur was runner up to Andrew Flintoff in 2005.

Ainslie, who claimed his third consecutive gold and fourth Olympic medal in total with Finn class victory at Beijing 2008, was last night revealed as being on the final shortlist of 10 in the running for this year’s award.

The Lymington-based helm became Britain’s youngest ever Olympic sailing medallist when on his Games debut at Atlanta 1996 Ainslie won Laser class silver aged just 19. However after going one better with his first Olympic gold at Sydney 2000, the 31-year-old switched to the bigger Finn class and he remains unbeaten in the class since 2004.

In completing his golden hat-trick, Ainslie joins an elite band of just 10 British athletes to have ever claimed three or more Olympic crowns. But, like Ainslie, only three of those legendary Olympians won their golds at consecutive Games – five-time champion Sir Steven Redgrave, four-time gold medallist Sir Matthew Pinsent, and Paul Radmilovic who won three back-to-back water polo golds between 1908 and 1920 as well as another swimming relay gold in 1908.

However it was not just at the Olympics that Ainslie was in record-breaking mood this year. In January, he claimed an unprecedented fifth World title at the Finn Gold Cup in Melbourne, which he followed up with a fourth European class crown in May. Before August’s Olympics, he also wrapped up victories at Grade 1 events in Sydney and Melbourne and at the Princess Sofia Trophy in Palma.

The 2008 BBC Sports Personality of the Year takes place at the Liverpool Echo Arena on Sunday 14 December and voting will take place by phone only during the live show. The number to call to vote for Ainslie will be revealed on the programme after 19:00.