Friday 15 December 2017

Murphy aims to keep calm after whirlwind start

In attendance at the announcement that Providence Resources is the sponsor of the Irish Olympic Sailing Team is Laser Radial sailor Annalise Murphy.
In attendance at the announcement that Providence Resources is the sponsor of the Irish Olympic Sailing Team is Laser Radial sailor Annalise Murphy.
Ireland's Annalise Murphy competes during the Laser Radial Women's Sailing event in Weymouth yesterday

Vincent Hogan in Weymouth

Flag-poles swayed and windcheaters boogeyed in a giddy two-step as Annalise Murphy found her groove on the Dorset coast yesterday.

The 22-year-old Dubliner likes it best when her Laser Radial sail is filled in a gob-stopper curve and yesterday, she got her Olympic bid off to a start that was literal perfection. Murphy won both races in her class, surging into gold medal position on day one of an event that will run to five days of competition before that gentle made-for-TV drama they call the medal race.

Yesterday, she could have been navigating her beloved Dublin Bay, such was Murphy's harmony with her craft.

A flag-to-gun 15-second victory in race one was then followed by a spectacular reeling-in exercise in race two as she hauled in Belgian Evi van Acker, who had led at the first two marks. Murphy eventually won that race by 45 seconds, a virtual eternity given the competitiveness of the racing.

"I'm delighted with today," acknowledged Murphy on the quay-side. "But it's only the first day. There's still a lot of racing ahead. In race one, I had a good start, tacked across the boat and pulled away. It was great. I couldn't do much wrong today to be honest. I've got brilliant upwind speed. It's all coming together."

A bronze winner at the 'Sail for Gold' test event on these waters in June, Murphy is daughter of Seoul Olympian Cathy McAleavey. Her father, Con, coached McAleavey at those Games. So the pedigree is unquestioned and there was something truly regal as she returned to the boat parc ferme yesterday, smiling at well-wishers and reminding them that she has been well educated against the business of counting chickens.

Standing six-foot tall in flats, her powerhouse frame has long been recognised as medal hardware at the major regattas.

Yet, she acknowledges a susceptibility to two bad days in most regattas. And two bad days will invariably keep you from the podium.

Murphy was eighth at the '09 World Championships in Japan, which earned her the world U-21 title.

And, last December at the World Championships in Perth, Australia she won four of the series and was in bronze medal position up to the final stage of the medal race. But the wind died and a helicopter downwash made it suddenly feel like she was towing a barge. Annalise finished sixth.

So there were no premature high fives being splashed around in the Irish camp last night.

"Two wins? I don't think you can get much better than that, but it still is only the first day so it's going to be a tough six more days to go and anything can happen," she smiled.

Murphy has pretty intimate knowledge of the Weymouth waters, having been a regular visitor here since competing at the Youth Worlds in 2007. And that bronze in the 'Sail for Gold' event served to highlight the form she was carrying into the Olympic regatta.

The waters here are considered remarkably similar to those in Dublin Bay and Murphy revealed that, in recent times, she has -- if anything -- being racing here more than at home.


As such, she woke to an almost humdrum feeling yesterday morning. "I wasn't actually nervous," she said. "It was just one of those days where you just can't do anything wrong."

With good boat speed, and taking excellent lines all day, Murphy becomes the one to chase today, but she'll be mindful of that old bugbear about a couple of bad days.

Sailing's high performance manager, James O'Callaghan, sought to tramp down any premature fanfare. "You couldn't ask for more than two wins but it's a bit like golf -- the picture can change very quickly," he said.

"Winning races is nothing new to Annalise. She's buoyant but kind of realistic about it all. She may become a media target, but she doesn't (want to) become a target for other athletes. Her competitors won't be quaking in their boots at this stage and it's way too early for targeting.

"She's very young, it's her first Olympics. If she's in the medal race by the end of the week and has come away with a good Olympic experience, we'll be pretty happy. She's got a long career ahead of her and it's the first Olympics of a couple, we hope."

In the meantime, let the wind howl.

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