'Nobody was expecting anything like this' - Irish Olympic hero Annalise Murphy on Pat Hickey scandal
A beaming, broad white smile met the kaleidoscope of clicks and flash emanating from the phalanx of those manning cameras, as they ravenously urged Annalise Murphy to favourably position the equally pristine silver medal.
Flanked by her proud parents and draped in a tricolour, Annalise Murphy, who so sensationally won a silver medal in the laser radial on the choppy Rio waters last week, returned home today a national sporting hero.
Though slightly taken aback by her newfound position, the 26-year-old posed for photos and fielded questions like a seasoned pro.
Over the course of an intense week, her final surge for Olympic glory was truly captivating, while providing a welcome distraction from the travails gripping the Irish boxers.
Few could have imagined that the country’s entire medal haul would come from the maritime sports, but thanks to Murphy’s exploits and those of the gregarious O’Donovan brothers, who also took silver in the lightweight double sculls, that‘s precisely what transpired.
Murphy’s place on the podium proved the denouement of a quest which began with crushing disappointment in London four years ago, where she finished fourth after coming up short in the medal race.
Indeed, the Rathfarnham girl admitted that it was exceedingly late in the day before she began to believe such a feat was within her.
“I always thought for the last four years that, maybe, my best was in London and that I was never going to be able to get close to a medal again," she explained at the Platinum Services in Dublin Airport.
“A lot of people in the sailing world told me that Rio wasn’t going to suit me and that I wasn’t going to be able to perform well there.
“So it was hard to have to try and overcome that and actually believe that I was going to be able to do it.
“Up until a couple of months ago, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do it in Rio, and there was a running joke that I hoped that I wasn’t going to finish last.
“I’d come in every day I’d come in from in racing and say, ‘I guess today was good because I didn’t finish last again.’”
However, with help of her coach, Rory Fitzpatrick, Team Ireland Sports Psychologist Katie Kirby and training partner/minder Sara Winther, Murphy set about confounding all the those detractors, including herself.
She came to Rio 128 days out from the games, shed 10 kilos and, when the showcase commenced, embarked on a self-imposed exile, which meant staying outside the Olympic Village. She unplugged from the digital world and went about her business.
“I signed out of all my social media and we kind of made a plan, with Kate and Rory that I wasn’t going to look at Irish media during because if everything is going well, and you start reading things, you might believe your own hype.
“Or, if something has gone wrong, it can really upset you, if you read a negative article. So, from the start of August until I finished on the 16th, I was completely unaware of what was going on in Ireland or anywhere.”
Having performed consistently over the previous seven days of racing, Murphy undertook the medal race in the bronze medal position, a place behind from the corresponding sail in London.
Seasoned, grizzled and undaunted, she would not be denied this time, and ultimately finished behind Holland's Marit Bouwmeester. She described that last tilt as oddly wonderful. Within the blink of an eye, the elation was enveloped by catharsis.
“I was just so happy when I got to the final windward mark of the medal race, I knew that I was going to get at least silver. I was just so happy that I couldn’t even think properly. I probably didn’t sail the perfect end of the race because I was already so happy.
“It’s a dream come true, and something I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to achieve.
“The whole week was going so well and I was just taking it one race at a time, and then when I was actually finished and realised that I had done the job we had set out to do, it was just relief.”
From now until her final day, Annalise Murphy will be an Olympic silver medallist and, while the feeling is still nascent, she’s sure enough that no seismic personal metamorphosis is afoot.
“I hope I’ll still be the same person. I’ve noticed that people might be a bit afraid to come and talk to me but I’ll just go over and talk to them, and then it’s ok after that.
“I just want to keep doing what I love, try keep on sailing and, hopefully, being an Olympic medallist for sailing, bring more people into the sport and inspire the youth sailors and show it is achievable to win an Olympic medal in sailing.”
Murphy was in receipt of her medal less than 24 hours when former OCI president Pat Hickey was arrested on accusations of ticket touting.
This alleged act of bureaucratic perfidy contaminated what should have been a time of revelry but, along with Michael O’Reilly’s failed drugs test, Murphy was blissfully unaware of what was unfolding because of her chosen solitude.
When asked about Hickey, who currently sits in a Rio prison, Murphy lamented how the incident may now trivialise what she and her contemporaries have achieved in Brazil.
As such, there was an onus on the press corps, she said, not to lose sight of that narrative.
“Nobody was expecting anything like this in the Irish team, but it’s something that is still happening and I don’t really know exactly what’s going on.
“I guess it’s just, being Irish, you don’t want this to be affecting the athletes and the achievements the Irish team has had.
“So many athletes have performed so well across every sport, particularly the minority sports, and I think that is what should be coming out, rather than the negative side of this.
“I haven’t really thought about it much. My friends were sending me pictures of me on the front of newspapers, so that seems like I got pretty good coverage from that.
“I do think that is important for the Irish media to celebrate all of the Irish results because we had brilliant results in every sport, and that should be the top of the headlines rather than the negative side of it,” she said.