Anna Tunnicliffe: From North American Champion to Olympic Hopeful

December 09, 2003
By ODU Athletics
ODU Sports

Dec. 9, 2003

Despite making history two weeks ago in St. Petersburg, FL by becoming the first sailor ever to win back-to-back Intercollegiate Sailing Assocation Women's Singlehanded National Championships, Old Dominion Junior Anna Tunnicliffe (Perrysburg, OH) has even higher sailing aspirations that could potentially land her on the U.S. National Sailing Team competing in the World Olympics in 2004 or 2008. Mix that in with a desire to compete in the America's Cup, and it's obvious that Anna Tunnicliffe is just getting started in her sailing career.

"It's pretty exciting," Anna said about her recent repeat win at the 16-person ICSA Women's Singlehanded National Championships off the waters of Eckerd College, winning by nearly 30 points-47 to Genny Tulloch's 74. "It was a goal I had and I'm glad that I reached it. All the hard work paid off. I started the regatta solid and kept my races very conservative. That helped me to stay consistent. It was a very deep field."

The deep field included the top women's sailors from around the country, such as Harvard's Genny Tulloch, Sloan Devlin and Jennie Philbrick as well as Stanford's Ashley Frush, Washington's Hayley Siegenthaler and Michigan's Christina Falcone.

"There are a lot of good girls from around the New England area," Anna said. "All over really. I think in lasers, Tulloch is probably my biggest competition."

Anna Tunnicliffe's collegiate sailing record has been nothing short of remarkable. During her freshman year, she was part of the B division that won the ICSA Women's National Championship and with her two women's singlehanded wins, has been a part of three of the sailing program's 14 all-time national titles (representing nearly half of ODU's 31 national championships). It comes as no surprise, then, that Anna Tunnicliffe wants to compete in the Olympics.

"I'm going to the Olympic Team Trials in February to try and make the team," Anna says of the upcoming trials February 12-22, 2004 in Florida. "My goal is to make the national team this year and stay on it after I graduate. I'd like to compete in the Olympics in 2008."

Sailing in the Olympics was re-instituted following the 1984 Olympic Games. According to their web site (, "The team recognizes the top-five ranked athletes in each Olympic class," with the top five being determined based on the Olympic Team Trials. The 2004 Olympic Sailing competition is scheduled for August 13-29 in Athens, Greece. There, the U.S. National Team will compete in 11 different events in an attempt to bring home the gold.

Also potentially in Anna Tunnicliffe's future is the America's Cup competition. Started in 1851, American sailing kept the cup for the next 132 years-the longest winning streak in any sport-before Australia finally took it away. Earlier this year, the Swiss team, Team Alinghi, became the first European team ever to win the Cup, taking it away from New Zealand. A strong field of challengers are already forming to vie for the next America's Cup in 2007.

Anna Tunnicliffe, however, doesn't foresee a career in college sailing coaching. "I see myself being a corporate woman," she says. "The eventual goal is to become a CFO (Chief Financial Officer), to work my way up to that point," the Accounting and Decision Sciences major said.

Anna began racing at a young age in England, with the help of her parents, both avid sailors. She used to hate sailing in England, though, racing against much more experienced and talented sailors in a country where sailing is extremely popular. It wasn't until her dad's company transferred him to the Toledo, OH area, that Anna began enjoying sailing against less experienced competitors. Her brother, David, suddenly became her biggest competition.

At high school in Perrysburg, OH, Anna competed on the track team, where she set the 800 meter school record (2:17.58) and was a district champion; the cross-country team, where she was named to the 1st-team All-League and 1st-team All-District teams; and the swimming team, where she was named to the 1st-team All-District and All-State Academic teams. It was collegiate sailing-despite the fact that it's not an NCAA sport and offers no scholarships-that won out in the end.

"I didn't think I was good at running and I had no real offers to run," Anna said of her decision. "I had a dream of winning an Olympic Gold in sailing, so I chose that at the end."

Old Dominion has one of the top sailing programs in the nation, winning 14 national titles in the past 20 years. Current ODU Sailing Head Coach Mitch Brindley has been a part of nine of the national titles and is currently the president of the ICSA, college sailing's governing body. Anna found out about the school by checking the national rankings in Sailing World, noticing ODU was ranked near the top along with perennial Ivy League sailing powerhouses Harvard, Yale and Brown.

"I chose ODU because it was a good sailing school, it has a good business school and it's in a competitive sailing district, but it's not as expensive as the Northeast schools," Anna says. Part of the school's draw was also Mitch Brindley.

"Mitch is the coolest," Anna says. "He's awesome all-around. You can talk to him about anything. He's the best coach I've ever had and he really knows how to make the team successful." Joining Brindley on the coaching staff this year was former Monarch standout Samantha Ficksman, who replaced Mark Zagol when he left to take over the sailing program at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in King's Point, NY. "She's cool," Anna said. "She's helped me calm down during the races, along with Christabelle (Fernandez). They both keep the tension down."

"College sailing is very tough," Anna says. "When I was sailing in Ohio, it was just starting to get competitive by the time I graduated."

Despite her success in the water, Anna Tunnicliffe still has some superstitions, certain habits, that she practices before each day of sailing. "There are certain clothes I have to wear-my lucky bathing suit and lucky t-shirt, for instance," she says. "There's a certain breakfast I have to eat: a bagel with cream cheese and jelly. I started eating it when I was successful, so I thought it was what I had to do in order to do well in the regattas."

Anna Tunnicliffe's younger brother David joined the Old Dominion squad this year. "I talked the school up," Anna says, "and tried to persuade him. He made up his own mind in the end. It's great having him on the team. It's like having my best friend here at school."

A finalist for the Quantum Award last year, Anna currently holds a commanding advantage in this year's prize, which is given to college sailing's top female sailor. Former Monarch standout Corrie Clement won the award last year, the first year the award was given.

"I've glanced at the standings, but I've tried not to get it into my head," Anna says. "It's not a big deal. Winning it would be just as exciting as winning a national title, though." Anna pays closer attention to the national sailing rankings. "We're #4 now (Women's team ranking), we're definitely a top-five team," Anna says. "I like to think we're #1 or #2. It gives the team the drive to get ranked even higher."

Though the sailing program has won 14 national titles over the years, Anna feels that sailing in general doesn't get the recognition it deserves. "It doesn't get recognized anywhere as much as it should," Anna said. "I guess it's because it's a non-revenue sport, and I'll be honest, it is boring to watch, but it'd be cool if people knew what was going on."

The constant demands of college sailing, plus playing the cello in the school orchestra and being on the Dean's List every semester leaves little room for any free time, but during the free time she does have, "I just hang out with people, my room mates, my other friends. I go rock-climbing, very occasionally."

After a solid fall campaign, the ODU sailing team is looking to be just as strong for the spring season that starts in the middle of February. "I lift weights, run, practice" during the off-season to prepare, Anna says. Upcoming national championships will be the ICSA Team Race and the Women's Dinghy. "Team racing's a lot of fun," she says. "Women's co-ed Dinghy's is great also; it's fun racing against the guys. Each championship is completely different."

Wherever Anna travels to sail, she is undoubtedly one of the favorites to win-or at least win her Division. The spring 2004 season proves to be no different as the rest of the sailing community will have all eyes on Anna Tunnicliffe, as she continues to follow her sailing dreams to greater heights.