Annalise Murphy: ‘I didn’t believe I could do it’

Pride. After the fall. Back in 2012, Annalise Murphy cut a very different figure to the one before us now.

Indeed there’s a photo from that homecoming in Dublin Airport, of her sitting beside John Joe Nevin and Katie Taylor who are sharing a joke as the medals hanging from their necks glint. It’s that which caught the Rathfarnham woman’s attention as she peered in at what she could have had.

No, at what she should have had. That’s a torturous feeling that has followed her around for the past four years.

Yet on a beach in Rio de Janeiro, the stress that seemed to drag and tear at her emotions in every interview across these Olympics has finally moved along. She’s free and flighty, two words you’d never have associated with her and coming here two words you didn’t expect to be associating with her. “It is just, four years ago I went out terrified of losing the race and I was so afraid of losing a gold medal or any medal,” she beamed. “And today I knew I couldn’t do that or else I was going to end up fourth again. So I just went out and attacked it and... I’m so happy.

“It’s just an incredible feeling, I’ve been able to turn my fourth from London into a second here. The wind was quite difficult, it was lighter, it’s picked up a little bit now I think. I managed to get up to second at the first windward mark and I was just fighting the whole time and I got up to first at the second windward mark. Then I lost out, there was a little bit more wind down the left-hand side of the last downwind. But I’m just delighted how well I sailed this week and how much I’ve been able to turn around the last couple of months.”

Relief mixed with joy is a potent cocktail that causes her eyes to tear up as she speaks. But as physically grueling as this week has been, the mental toughness she showed across the the previous day was just as impressive. On Monday, she shacked up at the venue in third place, staring down the ultimate race just as she’d done in Weymouth. But low winds meant postponement after postponement and when they finally hit the water just before dark, high winds saw it cancelled. It left Murphy with plenty more hours to contemplate the past and wonder about the future.

All the while her brother and her training partner Sara Winther were off trying to change flights so they could make the action yesterday. In the end they were here to witness her history.

In truth, the medal never looked in doubt as from the start she tucked in at the front of the field. Indeed rather than the question being could she keep her place on the podium, it quickly became what place on the podium she’d occupy and at one point nearing the end she was set for gold. But Marit Bouwmeester of the Netherlands fought forward from the middle of the pack to hold onto first but fifth was enough to overhaul Denmark’s Anne-Marie Rindom and take second overall.

“No, I didn’t believe I could do this,” she continued. “At the start of this year, I thought maybe my best was past me. To be able to come back when it actually mattered and get a result in a really difficult week of racing, I’m just so happy. I just knew I had to go out and sail my own race and not worry about anybody else until it came to the last down-wind because if I was thinking about other people. That’s when you start not doing what you want to and you start doing what other people are trying do, which isn’t necessarily the right thing. So I just stuck to my plan, had a good start, went where I wanted to and it worked out.”

The result ends Irish sailings 36-year wait for a medal, stretching back to David Wilkins and James Wilkinson in 1980. It also means she’s just the fourth Irishwoman to medal at an Olympics. But stats about her own achievement were quickly brushed aside as there was a long list of those she was keen to thank and that have taken her to this moment.

“Now I’ve just been celebrating with my coach and everything like that,” she added. “But I’ve had so much support. Rory [Fitzpatrick], my coach. He’s been my coach since I was a youth sailor and this is as much his medal as mine. He has stuck by me when I’ve probably been really difficult and I’ve had a pretty hard time this year.

“I haven’t been sailing very well so we worked really hard over the last couple of months and we knew we could do something really special here. But to actually go and do it is just amazing. My sports psychologist Kate has been amazing and my dietitian Ronan who helped me get down to the right weight for this event here.

“My whole family, my teammates Matt and Ryan, Andrea and Saskia and Finn, they are great as well. Sara, my training partner. She is on the New Zealand team and she didn’t get selected for these Olympics so I asked her a couple of months ago if she would help me prepare for the event and she said she’d love. to And she got me so much faster. She has been such a great support and to have her and Rory and my sports psych’ Katie here has been amazing. They’ve been such good support. It hasn’t sunk in. I’m just so happy.”

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