For the past 11 years, USRowing’s women’s eight has won every major international championship — a list that includes three Olympic gold medals and eight world championship titles.
At the 2017 World Rowing Championships, they hope to continue this streak. The regatta, which opened Sept. 24 in Florida, marks the first time in 23 years that world championships will be held in U.S. waters.
But winning streaks have their good sides and bad. Is there huge pressure to keep the streak alive?
No, said women’s head coach Tom Terhaar, who’s led the team since 2001.
“It’s an amazing thing to win a race, and to win as much as we’ve won has been great,” he said during a rowing media day after the team was named in late August. “But I don’t think it’s the goal.”
The goal, he said, is simply to go as fast as the boat can go.
Throughout the 11-year streak, the lineup of eight rowers and one coxswain has changed. And this year, two-thirds of the women’s eight is new. Well, new to the national team eight. The only 2016 Olympians that have remained in the boat are coxswain Katelin (Snyder) Guregian, Emily Regan and Lauren Schmetterling. Should they win in Sarasota, it will be the fourth world title for these women (fifth for Regan, who also won worlds in the four in 2011).
These three women were also in the eight that set the current world record in 2013.
Grace Latz, who finished fifth in the quad in Rio, was also named to the 2017 women’s eight.
It’s the first time in eight years that the women’s eight has experienced this much turnover. But it is not abnormal, especially after an Olympic year. Terhaar pointed out that the eight had many new faces in 2009 and still won world championships that year.
Regan, 29, knew before the Rio Games that she would continue training this year. She felt like she has greatly improved since she first made the national team in 2010 after graduating from the University of Michigan.
“When I first started training, I felt like I was being given the opportunity to be the best I could possibly be at something,” she said. “And I don’t think you’re often given that opportunity.”
Now in her fifth year rowing in the eight, Regan has gone from rookie to veteran.
“It’s like a switch flipped [after the Olympic Games],” she said. “You don’t always think of yourself as someone other people are looking up to. I have to be really accountable for my actions and be aware that there are probably younger athletes on our team who are looking up to me.
“But it’s exciting, and I hope I can help our team be as successful as we have been in the past.”
Schmetterling was rowing smaller boats at the beginning of the season but was named to the eight after the summer training camps.
Guregian returned to the team this spring. She married Nareg Guregian, who competed in the pair in Rio, in December 2016.
Also rowing the eight are stroke Sarah Dougherty, 23, who won four U23 world championship titles in the eight. She also was in the four that finished second at 2017 World Rowing Cup II.
Corrine Schoeller, 24, and Kelly Pierce, 28, were also in the same four that finished second at the world cup. They were named to the eight for world championships, along with recent college grads Sophia Vitas (University of Wisconsin ’16) and Meghan Wheeler (Princeton ’16).
“When you’ve got older athletes with more experience and younger athletes perhaps with more fitness or more power coming together, it’s working well,” said Terhaar. “The team atmosphere is very good.”
It’s the first major championship since the Rio Olympic Games — and the first in the new Olympic quadrennial.
“They’re working together as a team very well, which is the most important thing because they’re going to be working together, pushing each other for the next four years,” added Terhaar.
Other U.S. Boats To Watch At World Championships
The U.S. men are going to Sarasota with a young group. Of the 24 men named to the Olympic-class boats, only two are Olympians. But Mike Teti, who coached the men’s eight to gold at the 2004 Olympic Games, is back this year to help prepare the men for 2017 worlds, and he has seen the group improve.
“I think all the boats have undergraduates in them and some recent [college] graduates,” Teti said. “It’s a good baseline to start the quadrennial with. I think the team will improve over the next three years.”
He is particularly confident that the men’s eight will be competitive at worlds this year. The last time an American men’s boat won a world championship medal was 2014, when the four earned silver.
The American women’s crews have fared better at recent world championships. For the past decade, the women have come home with four or five medals at each world championship regatta. The eight and four — a new boat for women at the 2020 Olympic Games Tokyo — have won the most medals recently.
Are the women on track to have similar success at 2017 worlds?
The eight is, again, a favorite to make the podium. The boat — with a different lineup — finished third at the World Rowing Cup II in June.
In the other boat classes, the single, double, pair and quad all have Olympic veterans. And the pair, with Megan Kalmoe and Tracy Eisser at the oars, is a clear favorite to win a medal after finishing second in the World Rowing Cup II in June.
A three-time Olympian, Kalmoe won an Olympic bronze medal in the quad in 2012. She also has three world championship medals: a gold in the quad (2015) and two silvers (quad 2011, pair 2014). Eisser is a 2016 Olympian (fifth in the quad) and 2015 world championship gold medalist in the quad. The two women switched from sculling (two oars) to sweeps (one oar each) for this season.
The women’s four is also a boat to watch. The women are young, with two making their first senior national team this year. But youth can be deceiving. Kendall Chase, Kristine O’Brien, Molly Bruggeman and Erin Reelik all won multiple medals at U23 world championships in both the eight and the four in recent years. And O’Brien and Bruggeman were in the four that finished second at 2016 world championships.
“Hopefully, we’ll get all of the boats into the finals, then go from there,” said Terhaar. “There are a lot of countries and a lot of very experienced boats.”
And a lot of countries that would like to break an 11-year-long winning streak.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.