Those of us lucky enough to be present at Weymouth and Portland will ever forget those magnificent four wins by Annalise Murphy in the Laser Radial event at the 30thOlympiad.
This week, Annalise took the ‘Afloat Magazine’s Irish Sailor of the Year award for 2012 despite the fact that she missed out on a medal, finishing in fourth position in the medal race.
Last August Ireland’s best Olympic sailing result in 30 years in any class was watched by countless numbers of TV viewers across Ireland and beyond.
And it was more than enough to earn the young sailor the honour of being named Sailor of the Year for 2012, topping a shortlist that featured fellow Olympic challengers Peter O’Leary and David Burrows, and such up-and-coming talents as Sophie Browne, Finn Lynch and Fionn Lynden.
The accolade recognises a remarkable 12 months of achievement for the young athlete, capped off by her stirring performance at the London Games.
Despite the heartbreak of so narrowly missing out on Olympic bronze in the medal race, her accomplishment was appreciated far beyond the Irish sailing community, and raised the profile of the sport in Ireland immeasurably.
The then 22-year-old, who sails for the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire, had the entire country on edge last August as she battled with what Afloat’s own WM Nixon described as the “fierce challenge” of being top of the Women’s Laser Radial class, in stature as well as performance.
At 6ft 1in, the woman they call ‘The Irish Lever’ was undoubtedly the tallest in her 41-boat fleet at London 2012, and some British yachting pundits were quick to put down her early regatta wins purely to her larger frame.
But Murphy – who headed to the Olympics with confidence after a podium finish at the Skandia Sail for Gold, and a medal at Weymouth the previous year – proved that her success was no fluke, holding the gold medal position for almost half the regatta and entering the last race in third place overall.
Facing unbelievable pressure as the regatta reached its final stages on the Nothe course in Weymouth, in tricky conditions that would spread wide the times of most club racers, it’s to Murphy’s estimable credit that she was able to keep so tight with the front-runners, and it was only in the last few seconds – and last few metres – that she was knocked out of the bronze position.
We’ll never forget the tears she shed after the medal race’s conclusion – the whole of Ireland shared in her heartbreak. But we also shared the belief that that was but one setback in a world-class sailing career that’s only just beginning.
Considering the talented and dedicated NYC sailor and UCD student is still only 23, there’s clearly plenty of sailing success awaiting in her future, and she starts 2013 on her ‘Road to Rio’ aiming to clinch a medal at the 2016 Olympic Games.
In spite of losing out on a podium finish at the ISAF Sailing World Cup in Miami earlier this month, the fact that she came so close – and led the charge in the early stages – proves that she can stand proudly with the elite in her class. And she’ll have another chance to prove herself in the next round of the ISAF World Cup in Palma de Mallorca on 30 March. Annalise is currently training in Cadiz, Spain.