Olympic sailing silver medallist Annalise Murphy arrives home

‘Being Irish you don’t want this to be affecting the athletes and the achievements’

Olympic sailing silver medallist 26-year-old Dubliner Annalise Murphy has been greeted by family, friends and supporters after her arrival in Dublin Airport. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

It seems absurd now but sailing star Annalise Murphy revealed her Olympics in-joke was that she just hoped not to finish last. Then she took silver.

On her victorious homecoming to Ireland on Tuesday, this admission exposed the kind of insecurities that can overshadow elite-level performers but the 26-year-old Dubliner looked every bit the Olympian as she arrived with medal and tricolour wrapped around her shoulders.

Flanked by parents Con and Cathy and members of her team, Murphy’s familiar smile and attitude brought a welcome reprieve from what has been the running Olympic story - scandal and scrutiny.

Performances like hers - capturing silver in the women’s laser radial event - ensure the games are remembered for the stories they are supposed to deliver.

“I guess nobody was expecting anything like this in the Irish team,” Murphy said when asked specifically about the arrest of former Irish Olympic Council president Pat Hickey. Navigating the choppy questions with the deftness of a sailor encountering a squall, she seized control.

“Being Irish you don’t want this to be affecting the athletes and the achievements that the Irish team has had.

“So many athletes performed so well across every sport, particularly the minority sports and I think that is what should be coming out: how well everyone performed rather than the negative side.”

Murphy’s story is one that deserves to break through the mire. Ireland coach Rory Fitzpatrick said she was constantly referred to during the games as an egg with “world class potential” inside.

“But an egg has a shell and a shell can be cracked from pressure. So she was boiling this egg and making it stronger,” he said. Social media, friends and distractions from other competitors could be damaging and she was carefully wrapped by her team.

The shell of Murphy’s Olympic ambitions had been badly cracked in London where she finished fourth, to the point any kind of medal hope in Rio had begun to escape her.

“I always thought for the last four years that maybe my best was in London and I was never going to be able to get close to a medal again,” she said.

“In the sailing world a lot of people had told me that Rio wasn’t going to suit me and I wasn’t going to be able to perform well there. So it was hard to have to try and overcome that.

“We had a kind of running joke that, well I just hope I don’t finish last. So every day I came in from racing [I said]: well I guess today was good, I didn’t finish last.”

In the end, Murphy’s success is Ireland’s first medal in sailing since David Wilkins and James Wilkinson competed in the Flying Dutchman class in Moscow in 1980, also capturing silver.

Murphy’s mother Cathy was visibly overwhelmed by her daughter’s long journey as much as by the medal it culminated in. Herself a former Olympian, she described the rarity of such feats.

“Winning a medal is like trying to pick up a grain of sand on a beach,” she said.

“I hoped she could win it and I believed she could but you just never know what’s going to happen.”

For Murphy, it still hasn’t sunk in. The reality will get closer to home on Thursday when she, and other Dublin Olympians, is greeted at a reception in Dun Laoghaire.

She hopes to inspire future sailors and show those coming behind her that an Olympic dream is a good dream to have. Against the odds and in spite of the scandals.

“I hope I will still just be the same person,” she said. “I am going to keep on doing what I love and try and keep on sailing.”

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