RIO DE JANEIRO — USRowing’s women’s eight has not lost a major international championship since 2005 — so long ago that Twitter wasn’t even a thing yet.
It’s a winning streak that includes eight world championship and two Olympic titles.
Add one more Olympic crown to the list.
With its 11th straight global title, Team USA becomes only the second nation after Romania to win three straight Olympic golds in the women’s eight. It is the fourth gold medal for the U.S. since the event made its Olympic debut in 1976.
Plying the finally-calm waters of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas under a blue sky in Rio, the U.S. women’s eight — coxed by Katelin Snyder — came off the start and rowed the first 1,000 meters in third place behind Canada and the Netherlands.
Then, they made their move, their bow ball inching ahead of Canada. By the 1,500-meter mark, as if coxswain Katelin Snyder had turned on the boat’s turbo, they shot into a 1.72-second lead over Canada.
When they crossed the finish line, they were almost a boat length clear of Great Britain. The U.S. crew rowed the 2,000-meter course in 6:01.49. The British finished second, 2.49 seconds back. Romania was third, at +2.61 seconds.
“It was an indescribable feeling the entire way down, you could feel all nine of us fighting to push our bow ball forward, push our bow ball forward,” said two-time Olympian Meghan Musnicki. “It was our goal to stay very internal because we knew it was going to be a tight race.”
Stroked by Amanda Elmore, named most valuable oarswoman at Purdue in 2012 and 2013, the gold-medal-winning U.S. crew included Eleanor Logan, Musnicki, Tessa Gobbo, Lauren Schmetterling, Amanda Polk, Kerry Simmonds, and Emily Regan in bow.
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Unlike the 2012 London Games, where the U.S. women’s eight led start to finish, this crew had to come from behind to win. But they had total trust in each other.
“We knew that if we were working together, we could be the best crew out there,” said Simmonds.
In the bow seat, Regan could feel the boat surging forward and never considered that they were in trouble. They knew the five other crews in the A Final would challenge them. The other boats wanted to see how the U.S. crew would respond when they were down.
“The strength of our team is being internal,” Regan said, referring to rowers keeping their focus inside their own boat and not worrying about the other boats in the race. “We go through so many challenges, as every person does throughout the year. We’re used to being in that situation where we’re down, and we need to stay calm and do what we can. I had total trust in our boat.”
Although the U.S. women’s eight has been called a rowing dynasty back through two Olympic Games, Musnicki pointed out that the legacy belongs to the U.S. boat, not the particular women rowing it. In every world or Olympic championship since 2006, the women’s eight is comprised of different women.
“It’s easy for the outside to look in and say this team has won X number of years in a row,” Musnicki said. “While it’s true, the U.S. team has, this boat of nine women, that was our second race together. So this boat of nine has only won once before, in the heat [this week].
“So if you break it down and take it race by race, then it’s not as, ‘Oh my gosh, we haven’t lost since 2006.’ It’s a completely different group than last year and the year before that, and 10 years ago.”
What has carried over from year to year is a culture of winning on the team.
“It’s an entire group of women who basically give up everything else in their lives to be a part of this team,” said Musnicki. “We couldn’t do it without any of them.”
For Regan, the culture extends to the long line of women who came before this eight — all the way back to the first women’s eight in the 1975 world championships — known as the Red Rose crew — and the 1976 Olympic eight. She heard from 2004 and 2008 Olympian Anna Mickelson Cummins before the race in Rio. And she hoped to soon talk to Erin Cafaro, who rowed in the bow seat at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.
With the gold in Rio, Logan became the first U.S. rower ever to win three gold medals in the same event — a fact that she was not aware of.
“The reason why I think we performed to the best of our ability today is we focused on this group, the nine of us,” said Logan. “We kept saying over and over and we believe in our hearts, if we focus on the nine of us and believe in us, then we would perform to the best of our ability.”
The 2016 Olympic crew featured only two veteran Olympians, Logan and Musnicki — the fewest rowing in the eight since 2004. But that did not matter in Rio.
Nor will it likely matter in championship regattas to come.
“The power of young, hungry rowers is amazing,” said Logan. “I feel lucky to be a part of this energy that this boat had. They were just hungry for the line. I just had to keep up. I think Meghan and I feel lucky to be a part of it.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn is in Rio covering her fourth Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.