Sometimes the United States Olympic women's eight can make it look easy. Then there's the final of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when they carried a 10-year winning streak to the start line. It took something special to win gold.
The “unbeatable" U.S. women's eight, a dynasty in any sport, was running in bronze medal position to the halfway mark of the 2,000-meter course on Saturday. Canada, which has been gunning for the U.S. podium position for at least the last four years, was leading, the athletes pouring everything they had into the water of the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas racecourse.
The Americans pushed the bow ball just slightly ahead of the field for the first time and began moving into the third 500 meters. Crossing the 1,500-meter line, the U.S. blades were clearly in the lead. Canada was in second and running out of steam.
Great Britain, which had been rowing in sixth, climbed through the pack and moved into second, and Canada dropped into fifth. Great Britain made a push and tried to move on the U.S. in the last 500 meters, but the chase was over and the United States claimed the third-consecutive Olympic title.
The U.S. finished in 6:01.49 for gold. Great Britain was silver in 6:03.98, and Romania was third for the bronze medal in 6:04.10.
The buildup to the women's eight gold-medal race began last summer, when the eight won the 10th-consecutive title. The pressure mounted as the Olympics drew nearer, and the media attention went from bright light to spotlight, drawing comparisons to other sports dynasties; Sports Illustrated called the crew “The Unbeatables," in its Olympic preview edition.
It was the kind of pressure that could have distracted the nine athletes: coxswain Katelin Snyder, Amanda Elmore, Stanford grad Eleanor Logan, Meghan Musnicki, Gobbo, Lauren Schmetterling, Amanda Polk, Kerry Simmonds and Emily Regan.
“This one practice, a couple months ago, we had to endure a rowing piece," Logan said. “There was a group that went before us, and they were finishing their piece and everyone was giving two hundred percent. There was nothing left in their effort, and it was all on their faces. It made me think, ‘Wow, what an amazing experience to be a part of this group, where everyone is just giving everything they
have, every day.' To be able to not take for granted each moment, each practice and to keep getting better is an amazing experience."
This is a group with a mix of first-time Olympians, Olympic veterans and a steely coach who keeps a tight lid on any possible distractions. He understands that anything said prior to finals day can end up as fodder for the opposition to feed on.
“Meghan (Musnicki) and I have been saying that we feel so lucky and fortunate to be a part of this boat and this team," Logan said. “Their hunger to be the best we could be every single day has really pushed us to a new level that we didn't think we had. Every day we had to look to be better ourselves."
The men's eight was one of three U.S. crews to race in the finals Saturday. The crew of coxswain Sam Ojserkis, Stanford grad Austin Hack, Rob Munn, Mike DiSanto, Steve Kasprzyk, Glenn Ochal, Alex Karwoski, Hans Struzyna and Sam Dommer finished fourth in 5:34.23. Great Britain won gold in 5:29.63. Germany was silver in 5:30.96, and The Netherlands was third in 5:31.59.
“It's been a long year for us," said Hack. “We sort of retooled the whole thing, and it's been battles, week-in and week-out for almost 12 months. To finally get to this stage was awesome, but I'm sure everyone would have loved to have had a little more. We really wanted to go out hard and produce an effort we could be proud of. Our start wasn't our best, and we didn't really get into the rhythm that we wanted, but I think we really brought all the intensity and heart that we could have."