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Murphy motivated to add to Olympic legacy across multiple classes

The Rio silver medallist is bidding to qualify for a third Games, but this time in a different event with team-mate Katie Tingle.

THE NATIONAL YACHT Club on a sunny Thursday afternoon. It could be Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday in Dún Laoghaire. The east pier is a conveyor belt of walkers, the line for Teddy’s icecream never-ending. The picture of summer.

It’s just gone lunchtime so the platoon of Optimist dinghies is now on dry land, but it won’t be long before hundreds of kids are back out on the water again, scattered around the harbour until late in the day.

Annalise Murphy Olympic sailor Annalise Murphy. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

This is how Annalise Murphy spent her childhood summers, firstly as a sceptical 10-year-old sailing rookie and then as a 15-year-old instructor beginning to harbour aspirations of turning her hobby into something much more.

“I remember coming down here first,” she recalls. “I had an Optimist and I was sailing around in the dummy harbour, which is just the little area in front of the club, and I was scared to capsize.

“You have to do a capsize test as one of the first things you do but I was really scared. My younger brother, who was six and I was 10 at the time, was just capsizing all the time. Eventually, I did and that was it then.”

Nearly two decades on, not a lot has changed for Murphy in the sense that most of her time at home is spent in the club and in the boat off Dún Laoghaire, but today she is here specifically to help launch the Davy Junior Regatta, which sees 150 juniors compete, many of whom will experience racing for the first time. 

“I’m hoping what I’ve managed to do at the Olympics can show all these kids coming up what’s possible,” the 29-year-old says. “In both London and Rio I was in a position to win a gold medal but even when I was in that position, I was still wondering was I good enough to win a medal.

Maybe it’s being from Ireland, we’re quite self-deprecating, but I’m kind of hoping what I have managed to do can show this next generation of kids what can be done. ‘Oh sure Annalise, we see her out sailing every day, if she has been able to go to the Olympics and win a medal, why can’t we do that?’

Murphy is a regular presence around the Yacht Club at the moment, or on the water specifically, having made the bold decision to switch from her Laser Radial class to team up with Katie Tingle and try and qualify for Tokyo 2020 in a 49erFX.

Having won silver in Rio, bouncing back from the heartbreak of London for glorious redemption three summers ago, Murphy decided her third Olympic cycle needed to be different. 

Fiercely competitive, motivated and tenacious, the Rathfarnham native sought a new challenge after embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure as crew on the Volvo Ocean Race — but the timing of it meant she and partner Tingle were two years behind everyone else when joining forces last July.

The last 12 months have been a steep learning curve in the boat for Murphy and Tingle, and the results underline that. At the World Cup in Genoa last April, the pair finished 41st of 49 crews and then they were 51st of 57 at the European Championships in May.

“It has been really different,” Murphy laughs.

Rio Olympic Games 2016 - Day Eleven Murphy won Olympic silver in Rio. Source: Martin Rickett

“The actual racing is very similar in terms of the tactics and the strategy but sailing the boat is different. Basically, you just have to do hours and hours and hours of training.

“I’ve spent so many hours on the water with Katie, just trying to get better at all the manoeuvres and then once you get good at them, it’s about getting good at them in pressure situations. It has been a big learning curve.

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“This time last year we were capsizing every five minutes, we couldn’t even keep the boat upright and now we’re at a stage when we’re sailing pretty well. We are going to need every day on the water between now and Tokyo to first of all qualify and then give ourselves a chance of winning a medal.”

For all the challenges and obstacles faced in their bid to qualify for Tokyo, and there have been many, Murphy is enjoying the process and has been able to go about her daily training without feeling the same level of pressure on her shoulders.

“I’ve never really liked the pressure. I found it pretty hard between London and Rio, having to deal with it,” she explains. “I ended up dealing with it okay but I didn’t enjoy the sort of three years in between.

“For me, there’s now more motivation. This idea came into my head: all the great sailing Olympians have won medals in multiple classes. They’ve been able to prove that they’re not just the best in one class, but in multiples classes. That’s what motivated me to change, I want to see if I can be as good in the 49er as I was in the Laser.”

As well as getting to grips with the technical and tactical aspects of a new boat and event, Murphy has also had to deal with the psychological shift from being an individual athlete to being in a team.

“It is something I didn’t even realise. I didn’t realise how selfish and controlling I was until suddenly I was in a team. For me, it’s now about learning how to change that. Even accepting someone’s help, that is something I still find hard. I’ve spent my entire life having to do things by myself.

“But changing class is keeping things fresh. It’s a new challenge. I’m being humbled by the boat as well. I went out and thought I was going to be amazing straight away but you quickly realise, actually I need to put a serious amount of time and effort into this. There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t been motivated in the boat whereas in the Laser I went through lots of hard days.”

Annalise Murphy with Fia Staunton and Jonathan Dempsey Murphy with Fia Staunton (8) and Jonathan Dempsey (9) at the launch of the Davy Junior Regatta. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

With the 2020 Games now just a year away, the serious business is beginning for Murphy and Tingle. They will spend the next month in Tokyo, competing in a test event and then a World Cup race, before the World Championships in New Zealand in December. 

To qualify for the Olympics, Murphy and Tingle will likely need to make the gold fleet, or the top 25, at the World Championships but that very much depends on how other boats perform and how the race unfolds.  

There is a long way to go but it is clear Murphy remains as driven as ever to qualify for her third Olympics, while continuing to inspire the next generation around Dún Laoghaire.

“This four-year cycle has gone very quickly compared to the last one,” she adds. “I’m in such a lucky position because I love what I do. 

“In the lead-up to Rio, I always used to say after this I want to go and get an office job. But I’m doing something that I love every day, it is really hard but it is great as well.

“The fun and satisfaction of doing well outweighs the hard bits in between. I think I’ll just keep on sailing until someone comes along and says stop sailing or one of these kids comes along and beats me.”

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Ryan Bailey

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