RIO DE JANEIRO – The U.S. women’s eight crew now stands alone among U.S. teams across all Olympic sports with 11 straight global titles. Its calm leader, the woman who has won three straight Olympic gold medals, made Rio her farewell.
Its third straight Olympic gold was in a way its most nerve-racking and in a way its most dominant.
The U.S. was in third place after the 500m and 1000m splits in the six-minute, 2000m race, trailing leader Canada by .99 and .49, respectively, at each timer. The Netherlands was in second both times.
In 2008 and 2012, the U.S. led wire to wire en route to victory.
On Saturday, the U.S. summoned an incredible surge in the third 500m at sunny Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, moving 1.72 seconds ahead of the Canadians. The Americans ended up winning by 2.49 seconds over Great Britain and Romania.
That marked the U.S.’ largest margin of victory of its three Olympic titles.
The Americans have also won eight straight world championships, which are held every year outside of the Olympics. The run started in 2006.
It is the longest-running active streak of global titles for any U.S. team in an Olympic sport.
The U.S. men’s and women’s basketball teams each took bronze at world championships in 2006, so their dynasties will always be behind the women’s eight as long as everyone keeps winning.
The most recent 11-year run by a U.S. team in an Olympic sport came in softball, which will rejoin the Olympics at Tokyo 2020. The U.S. women’s softball team won every Olympic title and world championship from 1986 through 2006, but worlds were held every four years.
Their run included nine titles total, arguably not as impressive as the U.S. women’s eight.
So, what is behind the success?
Both the Americans and the other medalists, Great Britain and Romania, pointed to a U.S. development system and a pool of about 30 Olympic-caliber rowers from which U.S. Rowing could scatter across its Olympic boats.
“If we had at least half of what the U.S. has, we could have the same result,” said Roxanna Cogianu, a veteran for Romania, which won three straight Olympic titles from 1996 through 2004 before the U.S. took over.
British rowers’ eyes were opened visiting the University of Washington, an NCAA rowing powerhouse, a couple of years ago.
“The setup there was better than our national team,” said coxswain Zoe De Toledo, who led the Brits to their first women’s eight medal in history Saturday. “I think sets a huge base for them. But I think we’re starting to catch up, and I think the rest of the world is starting to catch up as well.”
The margin of victory Saturday would suggest otherwise.
Plus, it had to be demoralizing that the U.S. could swap out all but two members of the London 2012 crew and easily win gold with seven Olympic rookies.
Eleanor Logan is the only American who has been a part of all three Olympic triumphs during the 11-year dynasty. The Boothbay Harbor, Maine, native said Rio marked her final Games, after she became the first U.S. woman to win three Olympic rowing gold medals.
“I think I’m done,” she said. “You have to commit 130 percent of yourself every day. I’m not ready to commit anything right now for the next foreseeable future.”
After the London Olympics, Logan took a sabbatical from the eight and from the national-team training center in Princeton, N.J. She moved to Seattle with her fiancé (now husband) and took up the single sculls event.
She was fifth at the 2013 World Championships, while the eight took gold without her. Logan doesn’t regret it.
“A lot of my focus this quad was getting better as an athlete and as a rower,” said Logan, who returned to Princeton in 2014 and rowed in the coxless pair at the 2015 World Championships. “I’m really happy that I spent some time in different boats, because I know it made me a better rower because they’re so different. When I came back for the eight, I really had a great appreciation for this boat. … It’s so unique, and it definitely has a special place in my heart.”
Teammates called Logan “a calm force,” and a “wise veteran” who doesn’t speak often. But her strength is palpable.
“She’s one of the toughest women I’ve had the privilege of training with,” said Meghan Musnicki, the other returning Olympian on the eight. “I look up to her. All the other girls look up to her. She leads by example.”
She also leads by pure power. U.S. coach Tom Terhaar estimated Logan may have lost one test in the last three years on an erg, or rowing machine, that spits out scores over given times or distances for national-team members.
“She set the standard,” Terhaar said. “She’s still PRing now.”
Logan wasn’t the strongest when she made her first U.S. eight crew at age 20 for the Beijing Games and became the youngest Olympic gold medalist during this dynasty. She recently said she wants to row until she’s 90.
“I feel fitter than ever,” Logan said Saturday.
But she doesn’t plan on competing in the Olympics again. The level of commitment, and level of fitness required to make a U.S. boat, is incredibly high.
Logan was flooded with memories as she spoke under a burning Brazilian sun, wearing another gold medal Saturday.
She was later asked about her experiences and came up with one from a grueling indoor practice a few months ago.
“Everyone was giving 100, 200 percent, there was nothing left in their effort, it was all over their faces,” Logan said. “I said, wow, what an amazing experience to be part of this group.”