Is Annie Lush the ham in the sandwich of two fiercely competitive sisters? Matthew Sheahan talks to the British Women’s Elliott 6m match racing team
It’s purely coincidence that Annie Lush, the middle crewmember of the British match racing team sitting between two fiercely competitive sisters, worked for a conflict resolution charity during her gap year and has always fancied a career in politics!
Lush (31) is the eldest, the tallest and, when it comes to Olympic campaigns, the most experienced of the trio, having been Shirley Robertson’s training partner for the 2004 Games in Athens.
Yet this is a team that is known for a different name: Macgregor. The elder of the sisters, Lucy (25), is helmswoman/skipper, and has a long and impressive track record in match racing, which started almost a decade ago when she competed in the British Youth Match Racing Championships in 2002.
Her younger sister Kate (20), who is taking a year out from Solent University to compete in 2012, may have the shortest CV, but her results in top-level racing make it clear she has natural talent, a competitive nature and a clear dislike of double figure results.
With parents who have always been keen on sailing, the Macgregor girls grew up close to the water at their home in Poole where their father Jim, a harbour pilot, has been a lifelong competitive sailor.
All three of the Macgregor girls – Nicky is the oldest, a chiropractor who also races – grew up with sailing. That they have all continued through their teens and twenties is evidence that competitive sailing is in their blood. “We’re all about the same height, same weight so we’re interchangeable,” jokes Kate.
By coincidence, Lush also grew up in Poole, but came from a very different background. Her parents divorced at an early age and growing up at a ‘pretty ordinary’ state school, her sailing friends were from a completely different social background, factors she believes made her aware of cultural differences from early age.
She freely admits to being involved in sailing largely for the social aspects and only joined the open meeting circuit when older friends started to drive.
“I never did the youth squad thing,” she says. “There was no grand plan, it was more about who had a camper van!”
For her, the thrill of success came from rowing for Cambridge in the boat race. This was the catalyst that made her consider Olympic sailing as a possible goal.
In 2010 the team, along with fourth crew member Mary Rook, won the ISAF Women’s Match Racing World Championship, the right step at the right time as they worked towards their Olympic goal.
Ashore all three present a cheery, enthusiastic, articulate and self-effacing front. Individually, they are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, looking to each other for confirmation when the questions get tricky and personal. They seem perfectly at ease talking in each others’ presence. Perhaps they’ve become used to it in the 200 days a year they spend together. Yet they are still clearly surprised by some of the things they don’t know about each other.
The ability to discuss, debate and be frank with each other is an essential ingredient for success in the fast-moving, intense and often stressful world of match racing, which requires a very different approach to training.
“Our training programmes vary considerably in a variety of conditions,” explains Lucy Macgregor. “Twenty knots of wind is no good for pre-start training, in those conditions it is more about handling the boat and crew work. So we need to be adaptable in our approach.”
“Because we’re handed the boats and don’t own them, we also need to be able to recognise different set-ups,” adds Lush. “When it comes to sail shape and rig set up, the question ‘why’ is irrelevant, we simply need to know how to recognise the configuration and how to deal with it.”
“Plus, we need to be honest with ourselves as to how we might have beaten another team,” chips in Kate. “If it was a boat handling thing and we won even if we were beaten in the pre-start, we have to be frank with ourselves about that.”
They are three sailors speaking the same language. But there is one word that the girls use repeatedly in describing their long haul to a place in the British Olympic team: “lucky.”
A closer inspection of their route to the Games suggests it is anything but.