Murphy is cruelly edged out
SAILING:ON LAND or water, the old rule holds true: fourth place hurts the worst. There was something desperately lonely about the sight of Annalise Murphy standing beside her dinghy as her team furled the sail and the tricolour disappeared.
In Weymouth, a Dorset seaside town in the HP sauce tradition, the sun still shone and the wind blustered across Portland Bay as Murphy tried to come to terms with a bleak end to a wonderful week. Around lunchtime yesterday, there had been high hopes that the young Dublin sailor would secure Ireland’s first Olympic medals of a race.
Instead, she found herself edged out, the heady hopes of gold eclipsed by the scintillating race sailed by China’s Lijia Xu and cruelly squeezed out of medal contention altogether after a late burst by Belgium’s Evi van Acker in the final downwind run.
It was a shuddering close to a week which had begun in dreamlike fashion for Murphy, who had raced with such verve and confidence over the opening two days that left Olympic veterans searching in vain for comparisons. But when it was over, Murphy was left standing in the summery gusts blinking to fight back tears and doing her best to sound bright as she spoke to the cameras and radiomen in a brave attempt to disguise the note of hurt in her voice.
“I don’t know if the race went wrong for me,” she said. “It is just sport. I missed out on a few gusts of wind in the first downwind and then I was behind and I was just trying to catch up with them for the rest of the race. The girls are all so good, as well that it’s not like it was going to be easy to beat them. So yeah, I guess I was just at the wrong end of the four of us at the end of the race.”
Nearby, silver medallist Marit Bouwmeester (the Netherlands) was waving her flags, and Xu, who had sailed with serene composure just beyond the reach of the fleet, calmly hosed her boat down. It wasn’t that things went badly for Murphy – she took an audacious lead to turn first into the mark after the opening upwind but made a tactical decision that ultimately backfired, which allowed all her main contenders to get past in the downwind section. She later recovered from two more bad downwind sections to hold silver and bronze positions as the race entered its critical phase.
In the emotional minutes afterwards, she chided herself for making one or two poor decisions but when James O’Callaghan, the high performance director, was asked about that, he felt she was being tough on herself. “I don’t know that she necessarily did to be honest,” O’Callaghan said, his voice sounding hollowed out.