'It's really hard to finish fourth . . . this week has gone close to perfect'
SAILING LASER RADIAL:IF IT was possible to personify the notion of “cheerfully devastated”, Annalise Murphy was just that in Weymouth yesterday.
The clinical brutality of sport saw the 22-year-old, who has so ably been the poster girl for Irish sailing and the National Yacht Club, yesterday rewarded with little more than an Olympic diploma for reaching the top 10 of her event.
As for the feat of delivering four consecutive race wins at the start of her fleet series – nothing. And for the fact that after eight of those ten races, she was the overall leader of her class – again, nada.
And even during the blunt, 30-minute decider that was yesterday’s medal race finale for the top 10 sailors, including the four best locked in a dead heat, Murphy led for the gold early on and reclaimed podium places several times.
“It’s really hard to finish fourth, I think it’s the worst place to finish in the Olympic Games,” she said a few hours after the race ended. “I was in the gold medal position in that race, then I was in the silver position, then bronze, it’s really tough to get it through my head at the moment. I’ve cried a lot today.”
As if in sympathy for her plight, the remaining wheels of the Irish sailing team came off the cart yesterday as Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern had their worst day and missed out on a place in tomorrow’s 49er skiff medal race.
Ger Owens and Scott Flanigan in the 470 class also had a poor day and are placed last in their 27-boat fleet that ends its fleet series this afternoon.
Yet in spite of the intense disappointment, Murphy retains a clear vision of her achievements.
“In Sailing, everyone who’s come fourth before has come back and worked harder than anyone else to end up winning a medal or winning gold at the next Games. I think this will give me motivation to work really hard for 2016,” she said.
Nor is she beating herself up for her fifth place in yesterday’s medal race.
“This week has gone close to perfect, I haven’t made any major mistakes (and) even the race where I finished 18th, I had pulled back to that (from near last place). I’m a much better sailor than even this time a year ago.” The final race depended on the finishing-order between the 2008 Bronze medallist Lijia Xu from China, the Netherlands’ Marit Boumeester, who is the current world champion, and Belgium’s Evi Van Acker – average age over-25, almost a full Olympic cycle older than the Irish sailor.
“I’m only 22, all the other girls are much older than me in the fleet and they’ve all got a lot more experience – to be in with a chance of beating them was pretty good,” Murphy allowed.
Well used to pressure from the Beijing Olympics at Qingdao four years ago before a home audience, Xu blossomed at the end of the fleet series at the weekend in fresh winds, peaking beautifully to take the overall leader’s yellow bib despite the near-tied leader-board.
Her skill continued yesterday, bravely opting to break away from the other nine boats to sail to the opposite side of the first leg. While Murphy won the sprint to the first mark, it was Xu who rounded in second as a reward for her flier.
Murphy tripped on the downwind leg of the three lap course and though her powerful ability upwind in the 12 knot breeze that gusted to a fresher 16 knots at times, it was ultimately her tactical choices that became her undoing: marginal calls with critical outcomes.
Xu blasted on regardless, controlling the fleet behind her and even when penalised with a turn for excessive pumping of her sail, she was unstoppable. She only needed to be first of the four top boats but she won the race anyway and was the deserving winner of the gold.
Boumeester was second for the silver, while Van Acker had managed to pass Murphy, having been behind the Irish sailor for much of the race and took the bronze, turning a dream first-time Olympic into a nightmare for the Dún Laoghaire sailor.