Sunday 20 January 2019

'Year at sea will boost my bid for Tokyo gold'

Rio medallist Annalise Murphy explains why she is taking a 12-month break from Lasers  to race around the world

Olympic silver medallist Annalise Murphy last night flew out to Lisbon, from where she will begin a 45,000 mile round-the-world journey. Photo: Bryan Keane/INPHO
Olympic silver medallist Annalise Murphy last night flew out to Lisbon, from where she will begin a 45,000 mile round-the-world journey. Photo: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Sam Wheeler

Annalise Murphy says her temporary switch from dinghy sailing to the Volvo Ocean Race is "like Usain Bolt stepping up to ultra-marathons" - but she insists that spending 12 months away from her specialist discipline won't harm her push for Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020.

The Rio silver medallist last night flew to Lisbon, from where she will begin an eight-month, 45,000-mile round-the-world journey that will take her far from her comfort zone, in many senses. Competing against hardened ocean racers, she has only had a month or so of training in a 65-foot boat - almost all of her experience is in 14-footers.

And then there is the hardship: she is not going on a cushy cruise. Her boat, Turn the Tide on Plastic, is not a luxury vessel. It is built for speed.

Her itinerary involves spending up to 23 days at a time out of sight of land, sailing day and night. Throughout that time, she will work a cycle of four hours on watch, four hours off. "It's continuous," she says. "It's not like you have your weekend off or anything."

The four hours off will incorporate eating (freeze-dried rations) and sleeping (she will be assigned a bunk to time-share with someone on the opposite watch), and not a lot else.

In the Laser, her races were less than an hour long. ("And you slept and ate on dry land"). She used to race solo; now she's part of a 10-strong, mixed-gender crew.

"It's all very different," says Murphy, who has recovered from the knee injury that kept her out of the World Championships in the summer. So why is she doing it, and is she not worried it will detract from her hopes of Tokyo gold?

"I think it will actually help me," says the Dubliner, who suffered the heartbreak of a fourth-placed finish at London 2012, having led the competition most of the way.

"I've already done two full Olympic campaigns. And to do four more years of the same thing, it's really hard. I found it really hard between London and Rio. The year after London, I thought, 'This is amazing'. And then 2014, I just couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"My whole life was about winning a medal in Rio, and then when I started to do badly, I started to think, my whole life is going to be ruined, I'm not going to win a medal, I'm going to be miserable for the next few years. It was really hard.

"And that's why I knew I had to do lots of different things in between Rio and Tokyo 2020.

"I'm able to sail Lasers with my eyes closed. I've sailed 20,000 hours in them, probably more. It'll be a couple of weeks getting back used to it, then I should be fine."

Is there any chance that racing in the Volvo - one of the three blue riband events on the global sailing calendar, along with the Admiral's Cup and the Olympics - will reduce her hunger for Laser success?

"No," she says, firmly. "I don't know how I'm going to feel at the end of all this, but I think it's going to give me a different perspective. I'll have two years to throw myself into Tokyo."

Murphy is quick to point out that her place at the Tokyo Games is far from guaranteed. First, Ireland have to qualify for a berth in the Laser class; and then Murphy has to be selected.

"There's a group of girls coming up whose dream is to go to the Olympics," she says. "They've seen the success I've had and they believe they can do it as well. They are definitely going to push me really hard."

It is notable, though, that she goes on the Volvo voyage with the blessing of Irish Sailing Association performance director James O'Callaghan.

To earn her place aboard the Turn the Tide on Plastic, Murphy had to pass a rigorous, highly competitive two-day trial, to which she was invited in July. There is plenty of precedent for elite dinghy sailors achieving great things in bigger boats, but Murphy plays down her chances in the Volvo race.

Although the seven competing boats are all of identical design, the rival crews have financial advantages over Turn the Tide on Plastic, which is sponsored by Clean Seas Trust, a charity aimed at raising awareness about ocean pollution.

"We're pretty far behind the other teams," says Murphy. "They've got big budgets, and really experienced sailors who have been training hard for years."

Are they paid big bucks, then?

"Yeah, I think so. It's more a life experience for us - we're definitely not being paid life-changing wads of cash!"

On Saturday: Annalise on hardships on the high seas

Annalise Murphy is a brand ambassador for Liberty Insurance - with whom she has insured her newly-restored Olympic medal

Irish Independent

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