After 15 years of campaigning leading up to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Ireland's silver medallist Annalise Murphy has ended her single-handed sailing career in the Laser class. Instead the Rathfarnham sailor will begin training in the 49erFX skiff class once the Volvo Ocean Race finishes on June 30th.
Murphy is a crew-member on the Turn the Tide On Plastic team, her first ever venture into offshore or professionally crewed racing. She is currently in Newport, Rhode Island having completed the 5,700-nautical mile eighth leg of the round the world race and will be the guest of honour at the Irish Consulate in New York on Monday for the Irish Sailing Foundation.
Former Optimist sailor Katie Tingle has been recruited to sail with Murphy and has started training in recent weeks following her decision to take a career break from teaching. The pair will aim to qualify Ireland for the Tokyo 2020 games in 18 months' time.
The skiff event is radically different to the single-handed women’s event, featuring high-speed boats, shorter races and emphasis on teamwork to achieve complex manoeuvres.
Ireland were represented by Saskia Tidey and Andrea Brewster in the event at Rio, placing 12th overall and narrowly missed a place in the medal race final.
Following their debut at Rio, Brewster retired from Olympic competition, and Tidey switched to competing for Team GBR 15 months ago. One of the reasons she cited for her decision at the time was a lack of similarly experienced sailors in Ireland for her to partner with.
Part of a team
"While doing this [ocean] race I've been thinking a lot about how much I enjoy being part of a team," Murphy told The Irish Times this week. "This would really be something that will refresh me."
In several conversations crewmate Bernardo Freitas, who sailed the men's 49er at the London 2012 Olympics, suggested she would be suited to the 49erFX skiff. That got her thinking seriously about switching discipline.
Murphy discussed it with her mother, Olympian Cathy MacAleavey and also her long-standing coach Rory Fitzpatrick, who fully encouraged her decision that it would give her a fresh challenge that she needed. "If I was to stay in the Radial I'd have a huge expectation to match my [Rio] result with a silver or a gold. "
Aside from her Laser Radial sailing, in her free time over the past four years Murphy has been sailing the foiling Moth dinghy, a cutting-edge single-handed dinghy that has a specialist international following. Although the skiff is not a foiling boat, many of the other high-performance characteristics are similar, so it seemed like a good fit.
“I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved,” she said. “I’ve shown everyone what’s possible, that you can do really well but not be this person who is born with buckets of sailing talent. Work hard, learn what skills you’re good at, do well at them and then discover and work really hard on your weaknesses – that’s how I got good in the [Laser] Radial.”
So, does she expect to qualify and to medal in Tokyo?
“It’s a short enough timescale – two years from the end of the Volvo Ocean Race to the Olympics. I have to match my expectations with reality, and learning to sail the boat comes first. I know that every single day I sail will count, and we will sail every single day.
“Being new into the class means there won’t be any pressure on me, so I can enjoy the racing and that’s when I’m at my best.”
Training together with Tingle will begin in July, and the pair will concentrate on teamwork, agility and boat-handling skills before considering actual competition. Murphy fully expects to do a lot of capsizing for the first few months.
“It’s an exciting, fast boat, and I’m ready for the challenge. I’m really excited that something I’ve loved doing for the last 10 years of my life is something that I can now show and share with somebody else.”