The Beijing Olympic boardsailing gold medallist says that, other than some' />

Tom Ashley can't remember the last time he was asked for an autograph.

The Beijing Olympic boardsailing gold medallist says that, other than some local Devonport kids, he hasn't been recognised in public since late 2008. The lack of profile is no problem for the 26-year-old; in fact it seems to suit him.

"I think it is great, it's an advantage," he says. "It would be quite tiresome being a celebrity."

Ashley is extremely affable but notoriously focused. He disappeared in the months leading up to the 2008 Olympics, relocating to Valencia to train and changing his contact details. It will be a similar modus operandi leading into the London Olympics of 2012.

"I've always had a clearly defined goal to work towards. It is about making sure that every decision I make is going to get me closer to that.

"Sport is rewarding because you can measure your performance; if you work harder, you go better."

He aims to peak just twice in 2011: A world cup meet at the Olympic venue in June, followed by the world championships in Perth in December.

"I'll only focus on results for those two; the other events are really just training events. [My competitors] can get as excited as they want about winning the small events but it only really counts at the big ones."

Ashley is supremely dedicated, but there is balance on and off the board.

Aside from completing his first year of law in 2009, he also studied German and Italian to add to his stable of languages (he is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese; passable in French).

When he says the weekly training workload (up to 700km on the bike; 20 hours on the water; eight hours on the gym) is "fun", you believe him.

Super swimmer Michael Phelps used to train on Christmas and Boxing Day, knowing that was an extra two sessions nobody else was doing. Ashley is cut from the same cloth.

"I get a bit of a perverse satisfaction knowing that when I am out there [cycling or windsurfing] on those shitty days my competition probably isn't - that makes it fun," says Ashley.

Dave Robertson, his coach since 2007, agrees: "Tom is special - he genuinely enjoys training and doesn't get bored. Most of us need a bit of variation to keep interested; he is happy to do the same things every day."

Robertson had previously raced against Ashley and agreed to "give him a hand" with training in 2007. Last month, he signed up to a full time role, after previously working on a contract basis around regattas, and is locked in until London.

"Before Athens [2004 Olympics] he was talented and professional but sometimes a bit loose with his training. Now all the boxes are ticked. He has become a really all-round sailor; he is one of only a few that can win in all conditions."

For two years before Beijing the duo trained at 8am - "very early for us" - to take advantage of the light morning air. By the time the Olympic regatta came round at Qingdao, they had spent more time than anyone else in the light winds.

It wasn't all plain sailing though - just three weeks before Beijing there was an element of crisis in camp Ashley.

Based in Valencia, the New Zealander was involved in intense practice races with some of his closest rivals and coming off second best.

"They were pushing him around, beating him a lot," remembers Robertson. At a time when he hoped to be "kicking butt", Ashley was starting to doubt his carefully crafted programme.

"It was hard to swallow," Ashley says.

"There were a few days when I seriously questioned what I was doing. I went through a phase of thinking - have I trained hard enough? Have I trained long enough?"

"It was pretty stressful," Robertson says. "He started to doubt whether he had got it perfect; it was hard to see an athlete not performing as well as you would hope."

His team back in New Zealand encouraged him to keep faith with the programme, reassuring him that the peak would come as planned in China.

"In hindsight it reinforced again all of the ideas that we had," says Ashley.

"If you are going really fast a month before a regatta, it is a bad sign."

This year has been about "getting the body back into shape" as Ashley returned to full-time training, after the diversions of study last year.

There were world cup regattas in March and September (at the 2012 Olympic venue) but the main focus has been technical and tactical tweaking.

"There will be a mixed bag of conditions and it will be quite similar to what we might see here," he says, looking ahead to the 2012 Olympic venue at Dorset, on the south coast of England.

"It is unusual to have the same conditions every day. [China] was supposed to be very light [but] in the end we got two light days, two moderate days and two windy days. It is a little dangerous to expect certain conditions from competitions."

Another gold there would see him become just the seventh Kiwi to win back to back Olympic titles.

The final chapter could come at Rio in 2016.

Married to a Brazilian, the idea of finishing his career on home turf certainly appeals.

As does the anonymity guaranteed in South America.