Ask Tunnicliffe where she’s from, and she’ll say, “Ohio.” Ask where’s her home now, and she’ll say Florida. Ignore the underpinnings of a British accent. That she will sail for the United States next month in the Olympic Games, and that those Olympic Games will be held in London — just three hours south of Doncaster, the English city in which Tunnicliffe was born — is mere coincidence.
“It’s a non-issue,” said Mitch Brindley, Tunnicliffe’s sailing coach at Old Dominion University.
“She is by far the biggest American fan and athlete, probably, that the U.S. team could have,” said fellow Olympic sailor Debbie Capozzi.
What’s important is this: Tunnicliffe, 29, is already an Olympic gold medalist — an American Olympic gold medalist — in one sailing discipline: Laser Radial, a solo endeavor. In London, at what likely will be a raucous venue that is already sold out, she will be one of America’s best hopes in a new discipline: women’s match racing, in which she will join two teammates in trying to win another gold.
“We can’t think about the end result,” Tunnicliffe said.
Her teammates are a former college teammate at Old Dominion, Capozzi, and a former college rival, Molly Vandemoer. Their mission in London is to compete against 12 other teams in one-on-one, first-to-the-finish races. The eight teams with the best records move on to the quarterfinals, and from there, it’s single-elimination.
“I love the pressure of it,” Tunnicliffe said.
She says this just more than a decade after she arrived at Old Dominion, still something of a sailing novice. She began sailing in England but, by her own admission, “hated the sport.”
“The squad I was on in England was really good — and I wasn’t,” she said. “It was cold. It was miserable.”
After her father, who worked for a limestone company, was transferred from England to Ohio when Anna was 12, she grew up in Perrysburg, just outside Toledo. It would seem an odd place to breed a sailing champion, but the Tunnicliffes joined the North Cape Yacht Club, just over the Michigan border, and Anna took to the waters of Lake Erie. There, she grew to love the sport, even though she had no idea it would be her future. In high school, she ran track and cross-country. Sailing was just another option.
“To be honest,” she said, “I wasn’t very good until I got to college.”
Old Dominion is perhaps the premier college sailing program in the country. The Norfolk school has won 15 sailing national championships, and the women have qualified for 12 of the past 13 national championship regattas. Brindley, the coach for the past 17 seasons, not only recruits elite athletes from sailing hotbeds on the East Coast, but he takes pride in finding sailors from under rocks where others might not look.