The final day of the Olympic rowing regatta at the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas brings us the four most storied events in Olympic rowing: the men’s and women’s singles and eights.
For the U.S. women’s eight, it’s been a week of practice—and waiting—since winning the opening heats on Monday, as the team looks to add another gold medal and another year to its’ 10-year winning streak. The crew of coxswain Katelin Snyder, Amanda Elmore, Elle Logan, Meghan Musnicki, Tessa Gobbo, Lauren Schmetterling, Amanda Polk, Kerry Simmonds and Emily Regan dominated their preliminary race, and their reward, such as it is, has been six long days of waiting for this final.
“Every Olympics is different,” U.S. athlete and two-time Olympic gold medalist Logan told USRowing. “I’ve said this before, but this is an amazing group of women. I feel lucky every day to be in this boat.”
As dominant as the U.S. has been, both at this regatta and over the past ten years of the streak, none of the athletes on the crew rest on their laurels, and none ever, ever take the level of their competition lightly. “Right now, we are just focused on the final,” said Logan “I don’t think about the past, I just focus on the moment.”
Looking to end the streak will be Great Britain, who has come closest to the U.S. this year, finishing within half a boat length of the Americans at the Rowing World Cup in Lucerne. Canada won the repechage and looked to have regained the form that brought them the silver medal in London 2012.
The Canadians are led by coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie, at 56 the oldest rowing competitor in Rio and seeking her sixth Olympic medal in her seventh Games.
New Zealand and the Netherlands are also threats for podium places.
In the men’s eight, gold medal favorites Germany and leading contenders Great Britain took their opening heats with relative ease, but the performance of the U.S. crew over the week of competition has raised hopes that the U.S. men might challenge for one of the top spots on the podium.
“We had a goal in mind to go out and execute better than we did in the heat, and we did it,” U.S. rower Rob Munn told USRowing after the U.S. men's eight won their repechage to advance to the medal final. “Now, we get the chance to go and compete at the highest level in our sport – the Olympic final of the men’s eight.”
The crew of coxswain Sam Ojserkis, Austin Hack, Munn, Mike di Santo, Steve Kasprzyk, Glenn Ochal, Alex Karwoski, Hans Struzyna and Sam Dommer had the unenviable task of qualifying the team for this event in Rio earlier this summer after the U.S. missed qualification in the men’s eight at the 2015 world championships.
Despite the abbreviated preparation period, the team not only qualified for Rio, but has increased its speed over the course of the week, taking the win in the repechage over the Netherlands, who had defeated both the favored Germans and the U.S. at the Rowing World Cup in Lucerne in late May.
If the U.S. can raise its game again, anything is possible on Saturday. “It’s the ultimate drag race, and we’re focused on that,” said U.S.A.’s Munn. “We’re going to try to get faster and execute.”
The U.S.’s Gevvie Stone faced two former Olympic champions in the women’s single in her semifinal, but rowed a strong composed race to finish second and qualify for tomorrow’s medal race.
"The goal was to be top three," Stone told USRowing. "And I did that, and tomorrow is the race for the medals. I can't say that race went exactly how I wanted it to go, and I'll never be happy if someone passes me in the last 250. It makes me motivated for tomorrow.
"I'm ready to go out there and give it another race tomorrow. I'm in the hunt. It's good to be in the hunt, and tomorrow will have to be an amazing race to be on the podium. It's the single. It's going to be a battle of wills."
Stone will face gold-medal favorite Kim Brennan of Australia, former world champion Emma Twigg of New Zealand, China’s Duan Jiling, who finished ahead of Stone in the semifinal, Austria’s Magdalena Lobnig and Switzerland’s Jeannine Gmelin in the gold-medal race.
In the men’s single sculls, the one of the best rowing rivalries over the past four years will add another highlight as gold-medal favorite Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand takes on three-time defending world champion Ondrej Synek. The final is expected to be a rematch of the final at London 2012, which Drysdale won, with Synek taking the silver.
Other medal contenders are Hannes Obreno of Belgium, who’s had a surprisingly strong season in 2016, reigning European champion Damir Martin of Croatia, Angel Fournier Rodriguez of Cuba and surprise qualifier Stanislau Shcharbachenia of Belarus.