No longer sailing solo, Annalise Murphy's 2020 'experiment' one to keep an eye on

The Olympic silver medallist has jumped ship to sail alongside Cork’s Katie Tingle.

SILVER IN RIO — that means going for Gold at Tokyo 2020, right?

Not exactly, no.

Irish Sailing Performance HQ launch Annalise Murphy at Irish Sailing's Performance HQ launch. Source: David Branigan

Annalise Murphy, Ireland’s 2016 Olympic hero, has decided to tear up the script and start again. Instead of continuing her quest for Individual Laser Radial gold, she has, quite literally, jumped ship. 

From solo to a team player, she’s joined forces with Cork sailor Katie Tingle in the 49er FX class, with their sights set on Tokyo 2020.

First, maybe we could revisit a conversation the 29-year-old Dubliner had with The42 in March 2017.

“I want to go and see if I can achieve something else now,” she said. “When you achieve a goal, you get there and you go, ‘What else is possible? Can I do better?’ And that’s what’s been in the back of my mind – Can I build on this?

“It’s kind of daunting as well, there’s that small fear in the back of your head – ‘What happens if I’m really bad?’”

Later that year, she was forced to withdraw from the Laser Radial World Championships and shortly after, she set sail on the Volvo Ocean Race — a nine-month voyage around the world — as she shelved the Olympic dream.

But not only did she shelve her own Laser class campaign, she finished it completely and got stuck into her new challenge upon returning to these shores.

“I wanted to do something different,” she said at the launch of the Irish Sailing High Performance Headquarters on Friday. “Between London and Rio, it was such a massive challenge for me.

“If you’d asked me any time in the two years before Rio, I’d have said, ‘I don’t think I’d be able to do this again.’ Rio went really well and then it’s easy to go, ‘Oh yeah,’ when everyone’s on about going for gold in Tokyo. When I actually sat down and thought was that actually what I wanted, it wasn’t. It was what was being put on me. 

Annalise Murphy arriving at People's Park in Dun Laoghaire Murphy with her silver medal. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“When I was doing the Volvo, I had massive amounts of time to think about what I actually wanted. I realised I actually love sailing, I love racing, I love getting to do this but I also knew what went into winning a medal in Rio. I was worried, I was like, ‘If I don’t have that same kind of mentality, would I be able to win a medal in Tokyo?’

“Changing into a new boat, I don’t know if we’re going to be good enough but purely by how much I’m enjoying it, that’s got to be some steps in the right direction. I always found that whenever I was enjoying myself, that’s when I was doing well.”

Well it’s fair to say that she appears to be enjoying herself, her enthusiasm shining through as she speaks of this fresh start and her new partnership with Tingle.

Murphy convinced the 29-year-old Cork native to take a career break from primary school teaching, but just as they were finding their feet together, they suffered a setback. 

Last September, Tingle broke her arm badly in training — meaning four months out of the boat. But that may have just been a blessing in disguise.

Murphy continued to sail pretty much every day, while Tingle was back in the gym just four days after her surgery.

“Katie broke her arm on a Monday, and on Tuesday I was sailing again with someone else. I felt really bad about it but I was like, ‘We don’t have very much time so I have to keep on sailing.’”

She joined forces with 21-year-old Adam Hyland, who was at a bit of loose end after finishing college at the time, and they trained together for four months.

“It was funny, he was basically thrown into full-time athlete mode,” she grins. “He’s just the funniest. He made us laugh every single day, just full of energy and able to do huge hours on the water. I was very lucky, it meant I was able to keep on improving.

“It’s helped me. When Katie got back in the boat, I was actually at a very high standard compared to the last time she had sailed with me.”

Annalise Murphy crosses the finishing line to claim a silver medal As she claimed silver in Rio. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

While it was difficult for Tingle getting injured, it allowed Murphy to hone her skills on this new boat and put in a lot more time on the water. She admits that there were days she would have been too scared to go out sailing, but ‘fearless’ Hyland made sure they did.

Tingle, meanwhile, was putting in her own hard yards.

“Katie worked really hard while I was sailing. She was in the gym three times a day, working her ass off. But it meant that when she got back into the boat, she was at a really high level of fitness.

“That’s something with injuries — if you end up getting injured and you come back to sail at a lower level of fitness, that can be hard. But she came in at a higher level of fitness because she worked so hard. Her arm was really good, really strong again.”

They made the best of a bad situation, and neither feel that they slipped too far behind.

Since the second week of January, they’ve been back at it and going from strength to strength. It’s a work in progress, of course, as she laughs that 80-90% of things that go wrong in the boat are her fault.

The addition of Tingle is a huge plus, the Rathfarnham native smiles. While she’s had so many opportunities in the past, 5’2″ Tingle hasn’t had just as many so hopefully this will open doors for both of them.

“If I get to bring someone else, someone who’s so talented along,” she says, her mind wandering slightly. “Katie was just really unlucky that she never got the opportunities because of her size and trying to find someone to sail with. 

“Katie was a superstar sailor when she was younger. Optimists are the small boats for U15s; she was national champion three times and extremely talented as a young sailor. Then she just never quite had the right boat to sail moving into seniors.

“Katie’s going to be really good tactically and it’s going to be a huge help having someone that’s so good. 

“Her personality is great as well. Having someone that’s able to go through the highs and lows with you, and when you’re having a bad day, pick you up. If she’s having a bad day, hopefully I’ll be able to cheer her up as well.

annalise 'It's really nice not being on my own anymore.' Source: James Crombie/INPHO.

“It’s really nice not being on my own anymore. It’s great having a team-mate, just having someone.”

But just how different is this to the Laser?

“It’s a bit like you’re a 100m sprinter and you decide to take up badminton.”

That different?

“No, I dunno,” she laughs.

What about 100m sprinting to 400m hurdles?

“Hmm, no, that would probably be more similar. The actual sailing; tactics, strategy, racing, starting, going around marks, steering the boat; that’s all very similar.

“But then the skills required in the boat [are very different]. In a Laser, you’re always sitting down, in a 49er, you stand. It goes really fast, it’s actually quite hard to stand up on a boat that’s moving around going very fast. It requires a lot of balance.

“Because everything’s happening so much faster because the boat’s so fast, you always have to be thinking not just what’s going to happen next, but what’s going to happen two, three, four steps ahead because they come up so quickly. It can be scary.

“That’s a big learning curve. But it’s so much fun, every day is really fun.”

The duo make their bow at the World Sailing World Cup in Genoa, Italy, which takes place from 15-21 April. And there’ll be no shortage of excitement as they see exactly where they’re at and what they can do, while announcing themselves on the world stage.

“Really excited,” Murphy beams. “Although I’m one of these people that really likes training — most people don’t — but even I’m looking forward to racing now and seeing what we can do.

“Between the two of us, we’ve put in so many hours of sailing. We’ve had to learn the skills to sail the boat. To actually now go and see if it’s all worked… It is nearly a bit of an experiment to see.

sail 13 of Ireland's leading sailors including Tingle (l) are based at the new facility. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“You’ve put in this many hours and put in this much work with two people… Katie’s super talented and I’m hoping that she’ll be able to help me out when we’re going around the racecourse. I don’t know, we’re excited to go racing and see how it goes.”

At her new base in Dún Laoghaire, a wonderful reminder stands. There’s a giant photo of Murphy with her then-coach, Rory Fitzpatrick, after sheer disappointment at London 2012 alongside a post-it note.

“Not to fear losing but to see the opportunity to fight to win,” it reads — and Murphy laughs at the spelling error (she scribbled down ‘oppertunity’).

Fight to win, she will. And fear losing, she will not.

This leap of faith proves just that.

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Emma Duffy

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