Skip to main content

With A gold medal, future looks brighter

Anna Tunnicliffe, 25, of Plantation, Fla., won the Olympic gold medal for the U.S. in the Laser Radial class — the first gold medal for a U.S. female sailor in 20 years. Here she explains how she got to the podium.

Anna Tunnicliffe, 25, of Plantation, Fla., won the Olympic gold medal for the U.S. in the Laser Radial class — the first gold medal for a U.S. female sailor in 20 years. Here she explains how she got to the podium.

People ask what made me shoot for the Olympics. I guess the blinding flash of certainty came with the choice of the Laser Radial dinghy as the women’s singlehanded dinghy for 2008 in China.


 Tunnicliffe sailed a consistent series in a variety of wind conditions, ranging from calm days to typhoon-influenced days to win the Laser Radial class by five points.

That happened during my senior year at OldDominionUniversity in Norfolk, Va. I had a class in accounting audit procedures and, in the 15 minutes I had between classes, I ran to the computer lab to get online and check the Olympic committee vote. It was such an adrenalin rush to see the selection of the Laser Radial. I cheered out loud.

My first thoughts of Olympic heights had been much sooner, at around age 13. I’d only moved a year earlier with my family to Perrysburg, Ohio, from Doncaster, England, where I was born. Back then I didn’t even know what sport I would compete in to win a medal. I got some pretty mixed reactions from the kids in the local sailing program. There were some people who believed in me and there were others who were, like, “Good luck, kid. Keep dreaming.”

I first sailed as a child on my parent’s cruising ketch. I sailed briefly in an Optimist teaching program on a chilly lake in Doncaster in the Midlands, which is about halfway between the western port of Liverpool and the North Sea fishing port of Grimsby.

Somehow sailing at that time didn’t seem very appealing. That all changed when we moved to America and settled in Perrysburg.

My parents signed me up for the racing program in Optimists at the North Cape Yacht Club in LaSalle, Mich., but a month later I was skippering a CFJ doublehanded dinghy until I decided to give the Laser a try when I was 17. In high school, I participated in cross country, swimming and track at the varsity level and I turned down a couple calls from college track coaches to head to OldDominionUniversity and its sailing program.

Brad Funk, who I married this spring, got me started on the international sailing scene. My freshman year, Brad took me down to Miami for the Olympic Classes Regatta. I had such a good time there. I don’t recall doing super well, but I knew this was what I wanted to do. The college had a couple old Laser Radials, but they were not rigged correctly for international competition, so I started by borrowing my dad’s Laser. When I raced in Europe, I chartered boats.

Right after I graduated from Old Dominion in summer 2005, I raced in my first international regatta at Kieler Woche, Germany’s famous Kiel Week. I finished 22nd and got my backside kicked. It was then I realized I had a lot of work to do, so I came home and did some practicing with Brad.

When I went back for the Laser Radial Europeans and the University World Games, I did much better. I was really encouraged by an eighth-place finish at the Europeans. Then, in the University Games I was in the hunt for a medal the whole time. In the last race, the battle for gold came down to me and Katarzyna “Kasha” Szotynska from Poland. She won the gold, I won the silver. This summer, three years later, Kasha represented Poland in the Olympics and finished ninth.

That summer I continued to make new friends in the sport and started training with the Canadian team in Florida in preparation for the world championships in Brazil. I sailed a good series in Brazil and finished third. By now I had a support network in place and some good results to take to sponsors. Everything started falling into place as I began my life as a professional sailor.

My college coach was Mitch Brindley. My first year at school I was kind of a punk brat and we didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye. But we got through that and I developed a lot of respect for Mitch and we started working well together. By my senior year we had a really great dynamic going.

My US sailing team coach for the Olympics was Luther Carpenter, but Mitch also came to Qingdao to support me. Throughout the last year Mitch has been my keep-me-sane-halfway-through-the-regatta coach. Sometimes you don’t always want to talk to your regular coach about stuff. You need another outlet you can trust.

We had planned a consistent strategy of conservative high finishes for the Olympics, but halfway through the series it was getting to me as I dropped off the top of the points table. Mitch calmed me down and helped me sort it all out and the next day we were back at it and got out of the 4-5-6 finish range and I got into the top 2-3.

The medal race was an exciting conclusion to my Olympic campaign. I made a good start, but because the race committee called someone over early I went back and restarted just to be sure. Halfway through the race I was the second-to-last boat. I knew that would leave me with a bronze medal. However, it was a shifty breeze and I knew my chance would come. On the last beat, I saw my windshift and it took me to second place and the gold.

I really enjoyed Qingdao and one day I hope to come back and enjoy more of the Chinese culture. It is very difficult when you are training and only make short visits. There is never time or opportunity to get a real feeling for a country that is so different from one’s own and so exciting.

People ask what I’m going to do now. All I know for certain is I’m a professional sailor — without an income.

I have my sights set firmly on the next Olympics in Great Britain, but for now I don’t even know what boat I will sail. The Laser Radial would be the logical choice. Another possibility is women’s match racing and, for that reason, I will be leading a women’s team in match racing events over the next few years.