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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019
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Belief but no expectations yet: Murphy family quietly proud of Annalise in her quest for Olympic glory

Nerves, lighting candles and solidarity diets – a family in pursuit of Olympic glory.

Sinéad O’Carroll reports from Rio de Janeiro

SILENCE.

Six people, a television screen, a laptop, a tricolour, the Olympic Games and total quiet.

The dense, full kind. Not the peace dropping slowly, still kind.

A tense hush that is broken by an unnecessary trip to the bathroom, a nervous diversion to open the fridge door.

Watching an Olympian compete is a tough task.

Keeping themselves busy, Cathy McAleavey and Claudine and Finn Murphy know their week in Rio de Janeiro will be almost as much of a slog for them as it will be for Annalise, their two-time Olympian daughter and sister.

Sitting with them as they track the sailor’s progress during the third and fourth race of the laser radial class are her Rio team consisting training partner Sara Winther and sports psychologist Kate Kirby.

(“If she medals, you should be on the podium with her,” says Cathy.)

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The tight-knit group — which also includes Gráinne, mother of Ireland’s other Olympic sailor, young Finn Lynch – in an apartment, normally inhabited by Annalise, huddle around a laptop staking out the Irish boat.

“You won’t see anything from the beach but tiny white blobs,” explains sister Claudine as brother Finn gets ready to populate Twitter and Facebook accounts to keep everyone back home abreast of what’s happening in the Brazilian harbour (RTÉ isn’t showing the second day races live).

Even for the most knowledgeable, that’s not an easy task without good sight of the race. He relies on the tech as he figures out from a tracker — a yellow screen with tiny boats tagged with their countries’ short-names — where Annalise is in the pack.

“Tack, tack, tack,” whispers Sara sporadically, her training partner’s technique in her mind’s eye, willing her to make a mark, follow her instincts or overtake a rival.

Meanwhile, a mother looks at her phone. Another text. This time, the candle was lit in a church on the Aran Islands.

Cathy’s own was still burning bright in a cathedral in Rio. (“Although it was only an electric one.”)

“I think it’s harder for me because I was a competitor too. I know what it’s like,” says Cathy who was one of the racers in the first ever women’s Olympic sailing race in Seoul 1988.

“It’s the hardest sport on the planet. Someone remarked to me yesterday that if this was a swim meet, she could have a gold medal already,” she adds, referring to her daughter’s win in the first race of 10 in the laser radial class.

And then another good result. Fourth in Race 3, nudging her up to second place overall. This isn’t how Annalise told us it would go, yet there’s no surprise in the room. Belief rather than expectation.

But this is a marathon event with a sprint finale. The 37 women must race against each other 10 times to whittle the field down to the top 10. Then there is a medal race. None are the same: there is the water, the weather, the placings, the fatigue, the penalties and the rivalries. The drama.

Finn has a succinct, ‘one-that-I-made-and-posted-on-Facebook-earlier’ explanation:

So to sum it up, sailing is kind of like a combination of 37-player chess, meteorology and a marathon as they will likely have been in competition for over eight hours over the next seven days. It requires huge fitness, dedication and mental calm to compete at this top level and luckily Annalise and her support team have this in spades.

A family ready to empty their house of carbohydrates in solidarity for an athlete trying to ensure her best possible shape. The predictions were for very light winds on the course in Rio so the less weight the sailors are carrying, the better.

“Remember, I made a curry with spiralised courgette instead of noodles or rice,” Cathy said earlier to her son as we walk into the local supermarket.

I woke up at 2am starving. Sometimes I go to the kitchen now and wrap a slice of ham around cheese and eat it, there’s no bread.

He’s not complaining. He’s part of the Olympics.

Claudine even gets over the excess of nuts in the family home, despite an allergy. She’s in on it too.

(Original caption: Mum’s Opening Ceremony uniform from the 1988 Olympics that looks a bit like the Aer Lingus uniform! Great party to mark the occasion on Friday night. Note from Cathy: Paul Costello designed this uniform, as he did the Aer Lingus sartorial revamp in the same year.)

Finn is also ready to break out one of the finest green, shamrock-covered suits Ireland has to offer but he’s holding out. 

A family and team Whatsapp group make a decision that this regatta will be different to London. They’ll keep a lid on it. Sitting in Annalise’s Catete apartment, they will on the wind by waving the tricolours.

They ‘nervous eat’. They try not to watch as she heads toward vital marks. They clean. Well, Cathy cleans. With each swipe of the table, another second nearer to the final result.

“It is more fun being a spectator,” she says, with more conviction than her obvious pursuits of distraction should allow. Although there is a brief moment of song and dance to the tune of Eminem’s ‘Who’s Back?’

Then, “How’s the baba doing?”

The other five watch intently. Looking for that IRL boat on the screen. Where is she? Seventh coming into the last downwind. (“That’s good.”)

She holds it through the finish line and ends the day on 11 points, sitting nicely in second place overall heading into day three and race five and six.

Annalise Murphy on her way to winning the first race of the day Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Time to relax, for now. Tomorrow will bring a decent breeze across Rio. That’s good too. But there’ll be no celebrations yet. Just happy contentment when Kate says there is Barry’s tea to be had.

For now, that’s the only excitement in the household. Patience is required: from Annalise, from her family and from those at home.

Meanwhile, light a candle, wave a tricolour, learn the rules, play some Eminem. Murphy’s back.  

Related: Four races down, 6 to go! Annalise Murphy positions herself as a genuine medal contender

More: ‘I got very nervous when I was winning at the 2012 Olympics’

Read: 42 of the most talented current Irish female athletes

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