With the next Olympic Games in Japan still three years away, Ireland's Annalise Murphy is being trialled as a crew-member in the forthcoming Volvo Ocean Race around the world that starts from Alicante in October.
The 27-year-old Rio 2016 Silver medallist has been sailing with British veteran yachtswoman Dee Caffari’s ‘Turn the Tide On Plastic’ team that is expected to be announced later this month following completion of crew trials.
After a medical review of a knee injury this week, Murphy will not race in the 605-mile Rolex Fastnet Race that starts from Cowes, Isle of Wight this Sunday.
The knee injury occurred in the final race of last week's International Moth World Championships on Lake Garda where Murphy finished top woman and 51st overall in the 240-boat fleet that comprises dozens of top international sailors.
Seven of the VO65-foot round the world race boats are using the Fastnet as part of “Leg Zero” that comprises a series of offshore passages and events as training for the 45,000-mile circumnavigation.
"After a few days on the boat I'm getting to really enjoy it; steering the boat at night in 30 knots of breeze is a little bit terrifying but pretty amazing as well," she told The Irish Times yesterday.
“I’m going to be pretty useful on the boat because I’m strong and fit as the boats are really physical with a lot of heavy lifting. Sail changes require a huge amount of effort so I’m pretty lucky that as a full-time athlete for the last seven years I’m at a really good level of strength and fitness.”
Assuming Murphy successfully emerges from the trials, the round the world race ends at the end of June next year when she would then be released to concentrate on preparations for Tokyo 2020.
But a place in the Tokyo Games is far from certain.
First, Ireland must achieve a qualifying result in the Laser Radial event to secure the right to nominate for the single place in the event.
Once a place is confirmed, selection trials are certain due to the emerging talent that is already proving a threat to Murphy’s prospects.
While away racing on the world’s oceans, at least two strong prospects will be training hard and results are already promising.
Shortly after taking first and second places at the recent Laser Radial Under 21 European Championships, Howth's Aoife Hopkins and Lough Derg's Ashling Keller were in action again this week at the class World Championships.
In a bigger fleet, the finishing-order was reversed with the Tipperary sailor taking seventh overall while the Dubliner placed ninth. Two top-ten overall finishes for Irish sailors is being welcomed by Irish sailing's performance team as indicators of the strength of the pathway system.
“The better they get the better it is for me as we’ll have a really good squad. They’re two very hard-working talented young girls, [with] good attitudes and they like to train. It’s the perfect situation for me. It means we can all get better together,” said Irish Sailing Association performance director, James O’Callaghan.
Welcoming the prospect of Murphy’s selection for the ‘Turn the Tide on Plastic’ team, he added: “I think it’s amazing that her talents as a sailor have been recognised in a field other than the Olympics, that she’s even being considered for the Volvo Ocean Race.”
“For me, there’s no issue around the timing. This will be the third Olympic cycle so this [ocean race] would be a strength for her as it’ll broaden her horizons.”