LONDON - At the top of the Olympic racecourse at Eton Dorney, the mechanism that anchors the boats in place before the start of a race - the boot - was the only thing holding back the women of the United States eight.
For the last three years, after winning a gold medal in Beijing, they have been going for a repeat performance at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Race after race, world championship after world championship, everything that was done was just planning for this moment.
Coxswain Mary Whipple called it "Plan A."
It was executed today.
"It was plan A all the way and it was beautiful," said Whipple. "Right from the start, we knew we were just tapping into the power we had developed. And when that boot went down and we went to work, it was game over."
Charging down the course through the opening 500 meters, the United States crew of Whipple (Orangevale, Calif.), Caryn Davies (Ithaca, N.Y.), Caroline Lind (Greensboro, N.C.), Eleanor Logan (Boothbay Harbor, Maine), Meghan Musnicki (Naples, N.Y.), Taylor Ritzel (Larkspur, Colo.), Esther Lofgren (Newport Beach, Calif.), Susan Francia (Abington, Pa.) and Erin Cafaro (Modesto, Calif.) pointed everything they had prepared for towards the finish line and just motored to victory and a second consecutive Olympic gold medal.
"Coming off the line, I felt so much power," Whipple said. "And then when we took our stride, that was beautiful. We were a little high and I just told them to breathe and enjoy this moment. Feel each stroke. Be present. And we were present that whole time. It was magical."
It was a very good way to describe what took place. Canada, the crew that has been gunning for the U.S for the past two years did everything it could to push into the American boat, but could get their bow ball no further down the U.S. lineup than Caroline Lind, sitting in the second seat away from Whipple, or seven seat.
And that lasted for only a moment.
The U.S. flew across the finish line in 6:10.59. Canada was second in 6:12.06, followed by The Netherlands in 6:13.12. It all equaled seven world championships in a row and two Olympic gold medals. Six of the women in the crew have been part of the ride since Beijing. Two, including Davies and Whipple, have been part of the crew since it finished with silver in 2004 in Athens.
"That is an American dynasty baby," said Francia. "It's just so special."
For the United States, it was the perfect finish to a day that saw the men's four crew of Scott Gault (Piedmont, Calif.), Charlie Cole (New Canaan, Conn.), Henrik Rummel (Pittsford, N.Y.) and Glenn Ochal (Philadelphia, Pa.) race to a first-place finish in its semifinal and set the U.S. up for another medal run on Saturday.
A total of five crews raced today. In addition to the eight and the four, the lightweight men's four crew of Robin Prendes (Miami, Fla.), Nick LaCava (Weston, Conn.), William Newell (Weston, Mass.) and Anthony Fahden (Lafayette, Calif.) finished its Olympic campaign with a second-place finish in the B final of the event to measure eighth overall in the world.
"The start wasn't terrible," Newell said. "We were in sixth, but we were sort of in the pack. We weren't too worried about the margins. There was less looking out of the boat. We just tried to get into a good long rhythm. I think we executed that well, and it left us a little more juice in the last quarter.
"It was mixed results, but overall (the Olympic Games) been pretty positive. We're definitely in a better position than we were last year. I think when you can identify sort of definitive improvement over a twelve-month time span, it's an encouraging thing."
The lightweight women's double raced hard for 2,000 meters, but Julie Nichols (Livermore, Calif.) and Kristin Hedstrom (Concord, Mass.) fell just short in the end, missing their top level final by one spot.
And Gevvie Stone (Newton, Mass.), in her second international season, missed her top final in the single sculls event, finishing fourth to a deep field of experienced women scullers.
Still, the story of the day, of maybe the entire four-year Olympic cycle, was the women's eight and their continued dominance of the world in their event.
Some credit has to go to the intercollegiate system and Title IX, the bill signed into law by former president Richard M. Nixon in 1972 that enforced the idea that there should be equal opportunity for both men and women in American universities.
Major schools across the country developed and grew women's rowing programs and funded them the way football and basketball was funded for men. It resulted in a pool of talented and highly trained athletes that became available to the U.S. national team and the program's head coach, Tom Terhaar.
Terhaar insists he never thinks "more than a month ahead. So it's not like we're thinking about, how do we keep it going. We just think, can we get a little bit faster?"
But he has seen the growth of the program and how it can be measured in the amount of medals won. At this Olympics so far there are 13 U.S. women going home with medals.
"It's getting the right heads and the right bodies in the right boats. Getting the best athletes the best opportunity to win a medal and, fortunately, people stuck around and some young kids came up and it just created this incredible depth.
"What did we have, 13 female athletes from the States have a medal? That's huge because I watched a couple of Olympics where it was four and the best athletes, who were very good athletes, came home with nothing. So that's what's exciting to me."
So, yes, credit the system and credit the coaches and the support staff that stands behind him and the athletes every day, the supporters at the National Rowing Foundation, the sponsors, the doctors and the trainers who keep everyone healthy and moving, and the managers that get the equipment and the athletes across the world in a position to compete.
But credit the women who have stuck together through so much over the last seven years. They love what they do, and they love each other. That much is easy to see.
"I think it's a testament to the sheer determination and the heart of the women in the boat," said Lind. "I think that's what it comes down to, because I know that there are other women who are physically gifted and are amazing rowers, but the difference between everyone else and the American team is that we want it bad. We want it more, and I think that heart and togetherness - we do it as a unit, we're stronger as a unit - is what makes us different."
At the post-race press conference, Davies, who took one year off after Beijing, summed it up like this:
"So I was sitting on the start line and the I thought about something Mary said to me about three years ago, maybe a little bit more. I was thinking about whether or not I wanted to come back and go for another Olympics, and she said, 'I want to feel what it feels like to sit on the start line and have that excitement running though me, and I want to look you in the eye and know that we can have a great race,' and I thought about that on the start line.
"There is just no feeling like that. Having all that adrenaline running through you and knowing you can have a great performance if you do what you know how to do and thankfully, that's something I've been able to do for three Olympics now, and there's nothing I would rather share with my teammates."
The day began at Eton Dorney with the lightweight men's four. They had missed the top final, but went to the line to row for places 7-12. They finished second in 6:09.23 to France, which rowed 6:08.37.
Next came the men's four. After winning its opening heat on Monday, the U.S. went to the line in the semifinal and finished first in 6:01.72. Greece was second in 6:02.61 and Germany finished third in 6:04.61. They will row in the final on Saturday against Great Britain, Australia, The Netherlands, Greece and Germany.
In the lightweight women's double sculls, Nichols and Hedstrom started in qualifying position in the first 500 meters but could not hold off the field and finished fourth in 7:12.61. Great Britain won in 7:05.90, Greece was second in 7:09.01 followed in third by Germany in 7:10.16.
They will row in the B final Saturday against New Zealand, Cuba, Canada The Netherlands and Japan.
"I think we put it all out there," said Nichols. "Tough field, really competitive field. We're obviously pretty disappointed but we have a statement to make in our next race. We're going to give it everything and make a statement there," she said.
"I'm very proud of what we've done and the way we've competed as a crew this year and last year. We went out to make the Olympic A final and that would have been great but I think we put up a really good fight in doing so but it's a great field. Credit to our competitors."
In the women's single sculls, Stone had been having a solid week advancing through the heats and the quarterfinals and beating top competitors along the way. It ended today when she finished fourth in 7:52.98 behind Denmark, 7:44.33, China, 7:45.58, and New Zealand, 7:46.71.
She will row in the second final on Saturday against Russia, Lithuania, Germany, Switzerland and Azerbaijan.
"I wanted to go out there and have the race of my life and make the top three," she said. "It's a really fast field and I hoped to go out and catch (Emma Twigg from New Zealand.) She's fast and I didn't handle the conditions as well as I could have and I went out there and I did fight and I did think I could have rowed possibly more effectively.
"But I put my heart out there and I want to go out there in the B final and have the race of my life."