Cicely Madden, Alison Rusher, Meghan O'Leary and Ellen Tomek compete during the Women's Quadruple Sculls at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo.
TOKYO — During the Olympic Games, headlines are teemed with feats of medal-winning glory.
What we hear less about is those who fall short.
With 11,090 athletes competing in 339 medal events here at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the only hardware most athletes will take home are the pins they exchange with athletes from other countries. And some athletes will be lucky enough to try again in four years — or three more years until Paris 2024.
Meghan O’Leary and Ellen Tomek are two rowers who came close to winning Olympic medals in previous Games, then fell short again in their final trip to the Games.
At the Olympic Games Beijing 2008, Tomek finished fifth in the double sculls with Megan Kalmoe, then sixth in the same event in Rio in 2016, this time with O’Leary. Tomek missed the London Games with a rib injury.
Tomek and O’Leary, now in their mid-30s, competed in the quadruple sculls in Tokyo, with Tomek as stroke, O’Leary behind her, and Olympic rookies Alie Rusher and Cicely Madden in the bow. In a sport and discipline that requires exquisite timing for a boat to be fast — with each sculler pulling on two oars each — these women had only rowed together for six weeks leading up to the Tokyo Games.
The boat had power, they said — and so much potential.
“This boat is super talented,” said Tomek after they finished last in the consolation final. “That's why it's so disappointing because we've seen some crazy speed, probably the fastest speed I've ever been in a boat, like close to a world record pace. That's why it hurts so much.”
They were excited about the potential of what they could achieve in the Tokyo. The U.S. women’s quad had won an Olympic bronze medal in London (with Tomek’s former teammate Kalmoe rowing in that quad).
But once in Tokyo, Tomek, O’Leary, Rusher, and Madden had tough race after tough race, finishing last in their heat, last in their repechage (consolation heat), then last in the B Final — for tenth overall.
“Unfortunately for me, there's a little bit of unfinished business,” said Tomek. “That's just something that I'm going to have to move past and work through away from rowing instead of trying to accomplish within rowing. I don't know if I like have the words for it right now.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.