AS THE pressure and expectation reaches almost unmanageable levels ahead of the Olympic Games – Team GB medal hopeful Ben Ainslie can’t wait for a rare opportunity to relax ahead of London 2012, writes Ben Baker.

Ainslie will make his final public appearance ahead of the London Olympics as he competes in the JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island race aboard the 49.5m charter yacht Eleonora this weekend.

Ainslie has endured a hectic last few months, with Olympic squad announcements, sponsor’s public appearances, final preparations in Weymouth, plus competing at the Skandia Sail for Gold regatta all contributing to a busy schedule.

But as Ainslie prepares to join the 1,800 boats and 16,000 sailors from all over the UK and mainland on the starting line tomorrow – the three-time Olympic gold medallist is relishing a rare break away from the rigours of everyday training in Weymouth – the venue for this summer’s Olympic Sailing regatta.

“This year’s JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island race will be my final public appearance before London 2012 so it is an extra special one this year,” said Ainslie, who will be joined on board by former England rugby skipper Nick Easter.

“It will also be nice to get away from Weymouth and Portland and do something a bit different than the rigours of training but it is also a great race and I get a chance to race on Eleonora, which is this big plastic schooner so it will be a good distraction from the Games.

“So it will be great to get out there and sail something a bit different and just really enjoy it before we get back to the rigours of London 2012.

“This year I will be joined by Nick Easter and last year it was Will Greenwood and it is always nice to get the rugby boys involved.

“You would think, looking at them, that they would look after me but I am actually looking after them and it is a lot of fun with always a good bit of banter.

“The great thing about the race is that it brings all sorts of sailors together, from beginners to more experienced guys, and also all walks of life.”

Despite relishing his relaxing jaunt in Cowes, Ainslie admits the London 2012 Olympic Games are never far from his mind as the July 27 Opening Ceremony countdown gathers further momentum.

“I am pleased with my form and everything and this year it is extra special with it being a home Games – it really has been different,” added Ainslie.

“The support I have received has been fantastic and seeing people donning the red and green socks and getting behind my bid has been surreal. It is still a bit strange to me but I am not going to complain and having everyone cheering me on could make a huge difference – it has been unbelievable.

“I really enjoy the Round the Island Race and I can’t wait to relax a little for a change but obviously this year it is quickly followed by the Olympics which has been taking most of my attention.”

n The JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race is the fourth largest participation sporting event in the UK.

Organised by the Island Sailing Club, it is dubbed ‘Britain's favourite yacht race’, attracting over 1,800 yachts and 16,000 competitors. Visit the website for more details.