WEST WINDSOR, N.J. -- When the United States Rowing women’s eight team was chosen for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Esther Lofgren was the odd woman out.
Only eight competitors and a coxswain were selected to represent Team USA in the eight in Beijing. Lofgren was No. 9.
“It was pretty devastating to me,” said Lofgren, a native of Newport Beach, Calif., who graduated with a degree in economics from Harvard. “I knew I was only on the team for the prior two years, but being the last one not taken was pretty tough on me.”
But Lofgren turned the disappointment into a positive.
“It was a huge motivation to me,” she said. “Every day, I worked to get a little better. I had a very definitive goal in mind.”
Lofgren, now 27, made it her goal to qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“For the last four years, it’s really all I’ve thought about,” Lofgren said. “It’s been my lifelong dream.”
Last Sunday, Lofgren fulfilled that dream when her name was among those announced for the U.S. women’s eight squad that will row at the London Games beginning next month. All Olympic nominations are subject to U.S. Olympic Committee approval.
“Every seat was up for grabs and I had to earn my seat,” Lofgren said. “Even though I’ve been part of the eight for the last two years, nothing was taken for granted.”
Lofgren’s Olympic teammates consist of repeat Team USA members Caryn Davies, Eleanor Logan, Caroline Lind, Susan Francia, Erin Cafaro and coxswain Mary Whipple.
Meghan Musnicki, Taylor Ritzel and Lofgren are the newcomers.
Making the women’s eight squad is a major accomplishment for Lofgren, considering that six of the nine members that comprise the boat were all part of the women’s eight that won the gold medal in Beijing.
In fact, the U.S. women’s eight is sort of the dynasty in rowing, having won the last six world championships. At the 2012 World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland, the U.S. women’s eight won the gold medal and set a world record of 5:54.17, breaking the old mark, set by the 2006 U.S. women’s eight, by more than a second.
“There’s definitely some pressure on us to repeat, but there’s no more pressure than the one we put on ourselves,” Francia said. “We’re all friends. We all want the same thing. That makes it much easier. Having the experience of what it takes to win is a huge plus for us.”
Two of the women on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team will be making their third trip to the Summer Games: Davies and Whipple.
“I don’t refer to it as being fortunate to have been to three Olympics,” Davies said. “I refer to it as being hard work. I knew I would want to try for two and I knew I didn’t want to retire after the last one. If I still enjoy it, I’ll keep doing it.”
The 30-year-old Davies, a native of Ithaca, N.Y., said that the current women’s eight boat is the strongest one of which she’s been a member.
“Absolutely, we have to believe we can win the gold again,” said Davies, who has dual citizenship both in the United States and the United Kingdom, since her father was born there.
“Physically, we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. The biggest advantage we have is that we have the experience. We know how to win and know what it takes to win. It’s also easier to trust each other because we’ve been together for so long. I don’t think that the experience is essential to win, but it does help.”
The camaraderie and collective drive play a big part in Team USA’s hopes to repeat as gold medalists in London. The rowers said they believe this team is every bit as capable of winning as the 2008 team, and the pressure to reach their expectations had made them closer.
“It really binds you,” Lind said. “It makes you a strong unit and gives you an edge.
“What’s more important is that we all seem to have our intentions in line,” Lind said. “We all want the same thing. It certainly helps to get along and respect the people you’re with every day.”
Lofgren is hoping to bring home a gold medal from her first Olympic Games, but she is also hoping to take advantage of her unique surroundings in London. The aspiring journalist has her own blog, and will write a journal about her experiences in the Olympic Games.
Her more experienced teammates have been sharing what it might be like.
Now Lofgren has a chance to share some of her own Olympic stories.