That was the most surprising, least surprising gold medal in the women’s eight; in cross-tail conditions on the Lagoa, Canada and the Netherlands rabbited out of the blocks to lead, and even when the US W8+ started to make ground up, well into the third 500, nothing looked like a sure thing, for anyone really.
The only tip-off might have been the rating; when the TV flashed the US rate some 2-3 beats lower than the field, you got the sense that everything was going to plan. Right after the 1250 or so, the now-familiar power that the US women are known for really kicked in, and by 500 to go, the women had almost a length.
At the line, the US was well clear of GB, who’d had the US in their sights all week, closing for the first podium finish ever for GB in the women’s eight, a smidge ahead of a resurgent Romania.
After the racing and the medals, the U.S. women answered a lot of questions about “the streak” at the press conference, and the pressure that goes with it.
“Of course there's pressure, because all of you guys keep talking about it!” said Meghan Musnicki. “But it's our goal as a team. It's easy for the outside to look in and say, ‘this team has won so and so number of years in a row.’ And, well, that's true, the U.S. team has. But this boat of nine women, that was our second race together. So, this boat of nine has only won once before in a heat. It's a completely different group than the one last year and the year before that and ten years before that.”
Katelin Snyder, on the other hand, professed to feeling no particular pressure.
“I don't really feel a lot of pressure. I think that I want to win just as badly, regardless of whether people have won before me or not. I think that we're really, really fortunate to be on a team where you get to train every day with Olympic gold medalists. I've learned so much from Elle and Musnicki and the other medalists on our team, and even everyone in the boat has a gold medal from the world championships, and so it's really exciting to be able to draw from all that experience.”
“Taking over for Mary [Whipple] has been the biggest blessing,” continued Snyder. “She's been so incredibly helpful. She knows Tom. She knows how the team works. She knows what it is to manage a really big group of women and being able to overlap with her and kind of see how she took ownership over the position gave me confidence when I came back to take my own ownership over the scene. I don't feel pressure. I feel really blessed.”
US Womens 8+
Coach Tom Terhaar acknowledged that the race was tighter than he might have liked, but certainly not more than he had anticipated.
“If people are going to try to beat you, they're going to try to get up in front or they're going to save it and charge later,” said Terhaar. “That's basically it. We anticipated people going hard. When I saw the margin at the 1,500 I thought that should be good.”
In addressing questions regarding the streak, the wins, and the gold medals, Terhaar once again was very direct in crediting the athletes.
“It’s just a really good group. They're always pushing each other, and if one has a bad year, they don't make it, which is hard. But it's sport. Sport is hard. They just keep working and they keep working. “
Terhaar also acknowledged that his team derives tremendous strength from the camaraderie among teammates. “You just hear them, they sound like they've been brainwashed. And we don't brainwash them,” he said. “They really do feel it. They really do rely on one another. So, when they don't do well, it's really hard. A year ago, when they did do well, it was phenomenal. So, yeah, it is hard, and they were carrying a little bit more load.”
Super Silver Lining
Racing in the women’s single final, sitting in third, right before the 1000m mark, you could see Gevvie Stone taken a quick look to her left and then shifting gears by just a little bit. The mini-move took her from third to second ahead of Duan Jingli, then, coming into the final 500, ahead of Jingli and an always-threatening Emma Twigg of New Zealand, Stone shifted again, and this shift locked her into the silver and actually threatened Brennan’s gold medal over the last ten strokes or so.
This was a complete race for Stone, who has talked frequently about working on all facets of her gameplan. Indeed, Stone’s sprint, was the last part of her race she said she felt she needed to lock down. “I took a ten at 1,400, thinking about that and saying, I am not going to let her get through me again!” said Stone after the race.
US W1x Gevvie Stone
As has been the case all year, Stone came into the race super-prepared, and had a pretty good idea of what she was going to do.
“We knew it was going to be a fast race, warming up, super fast splits, really trying to take advantage of that in the beginning,” said Stone. “I knew it was going to be a short race. You’ve got to go fast off the start. Kimmy got out, but I was with everyone else, which was good for me. I'm a slow starter.”
“I was making these moves, trying to make it feel good in the middle. At the thousand, I took a traditional 20 for the folks back home. After I took those strokes I realized how good I felt. At that point I knew that I was in a good place because my legs didn't feel it yet. Then we had the cross chop and I could feel everyone else struggling a little bit. I was like, "Yes, this is Boston! This is what I want! This is rough water!" The So, I think in the middle 500 there was a jam and Jingli traditionally makes a really good move ofat the 1,500. I knew I had to push hard past that. The Then the last 500 was just go for it. I was, channeling my guys back home. I felt amazing at the end. , and I was surprised I felt awesome. Then I tried to stand up on the dock and totally collapsed. My legs were more beat than I thought they were.”
Stone laughed when asked to reflect on her regatta in Rio. “It's amazing. It's so funny because some people are unhappy because they didn't get gold. I'm so happy! I could not be happier. Kimmy's been on the top and to be that close to her, the silver medal, it's amazing.”
See our full interview with Gevvie Stone here.
Smallest Possible Margin in the Men’s Single
The Men’s Single final was absolutely scintillating, and it came down to the surge, the photo, and a long wait to confirm that Mahe Drysdale had repeated his London 2012 win by about an inch over the Croatian Damir Martin.
The finish was so close that the TV graphics showed Drysdale and Martin with the same time, 6:41.34, which also happened to be a new Olympic best time in the event; per the TV commentators, Martin and Drysdale will share the Olympic record.
“I knew I'd had a good race, so you had to be happy with the result. But, it was an agonizing wait,” said Drysdale on his way to the podium. “I knew a couple of strokes before the line, he probably caught me, maybe even passed me, and I just chucked on a few short ones and was just hoping. You know, I've lost two very tight ones the last two years, and to come away with one that apparently is the closest race in Olympic history, it's pretty special.”
Damir Martin (left), Mahe Drysdale (middle), Ondrej Synek (right)
For Martin, who could easily have cursed his bad luck, providence, or any number of things in finishing so close to Olympic gold, instead was the epitome of grace; when the result was announced, he applauded Drysdale, and when the rowers got to the dock, there was not a hint of regret. Great stuff.
Synek likewise had reason to be disappointed with bronze after arriving in Rio as the reigning world champ and the London Olympic silver medalist, but seemed content. “What a Race. Not so comfortable, it wasn’t my day,” said Synek after the race. “But I think every medal from the Olympics is counted so I’m really happy.” They’re all good guys.
See our full interview with Mahe Drysdale here.
Great Britain tops Men’s Eight, and medal table
The GB men’s eight blitzed out early, and in fast conditions, the length lead they built going into the last 500 was enough to hold off the Germans and the Netherlands. With the win, GB becomes only the second country after Germany to win out the full Olympic cycle (three worlds plus the Olympic Games).
The race had a little less intrigue in it than the Women’s Eight final; perhaps the most surprising thing for a lot of observers was that the Germans, who had made it an explicit goal this year to ramp up their eight to repeat their win from London, offered so little resistance. The Netherlands, who’d beaten everyone in Lucerne in late May, took bronze, a good bit ahead of the US eight in fourth.
Also unlike the women’s race, the big moves all happened in the second 500 meters of the race. At the 500m mark, it was four crews with one second of GB, but by the 1000m, the U.S., running in fourth place, had dropped almost a full five seconds off the pace.
Fourth is a solid result for a US eight that was not guaranteed to race in Rio until they won the FOQR, but you have to believe that the crew wanted to do more here.
“We’re disappointed,” said US head coach Luke McGee after the race. “We had hopes for a medal, certainly after the rep. We knew the Dutch would be dangerous, they are a strong and experienced crew.”
Six seat in the US men’s 8 Mike DiSanto understood the challenge of the moment. “This is the big league. You need to have your best race on the day. Unfortunately, not for lack of effort, we didn’t do that… You don’t ever want to take this for granted. It is a pretty special thing to make it to an Olympic final and compete for a medal. Unfortunately, we were unable to get one today.”
With five medals overall (three gold and two silver), GB tops the rowing medals table here in Rio. The US finishes with the two medals won today. Additionally, the US men, for the first time since 1912, do not bring home a single medal in Olympic rowing.
There’s case to be made that GB has sweep rowing absolutely figured out; with three golds and a silver in the five men’s and women’s Olympic sweep events, this may be one of the best team finishes ever.
See our full interview with Jürgen Grobler and the GB Men's 8+ here
Notes from the course: Kim Brennan’s gold medal was the first singles gold for Australia since 1948
Czech W1x Knapkova’s streak of 49 consecutive A-Finals at Worlds and Olympics ended this week, as she only made the B-Final in Rio
Also racing in the B-final of the W1x today, it’s worth remembering Ekaterina Karsten won her first worlds medal 25 years ago, racing for the Soviet Union in the W2x in 1991. That’s 2 or 3 full rowing careers right there.
GB’s Alan Campbell did not row the B Final in the M1x due to illness
Reunion Row in Rio: apparently the ’96 gold medal Australian “Oarsome Foursome” of Nick Green, James Tompkins, Drew Ginn went for a lap on the course this AM; nominal two seat Mick McKay was MIA, so FISA president (and 2000 Olympic gold medal winner in the famed French pair) filled in, nice!
Olympic Broadcasting Services broke out the drone today for some epic shots