Not being allowed to lose isn’t easy. Meghan Musnicki won an Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s eight rowing team in London. The team had won ten straight world and Olympic titles entering Saturday’s gold medal final in Rio. “There is all this chatter about how we haven’t lost and this and that,” says Musnicki. “And they’re unbeatable and they’re supposed to win. That can be overwhelming. So we set it aside.”
Such a mindset worked out just fine. America’s women’s eight rowing team extended its unprecedented dominance in the water, winning a third straight Olympic gold medal on Saturday at Rio’s Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon. Great Britain finished second, more than 2 seconds behind the U.S. boat, which finished the 2000-m race in 6 minutes, 1.49 seconds. Romania, the 2004 Olympic champ and last country besides the U.S. to win Olympic gold, finished third.
The team has now won 11 straight world and Olympic titles: that’s every major global championship for 11 years running. The Cold War-era Soviet Union hockey team won 14 straight world titles from 1963-1976. No other national team run, really, is comparable.
Though the rowing lagoon has been beset by pollution problems, the setting on Saturday was picturesque. The Christ the Redeemer statue looked over the start. The US trailed by half a second at the mid-way mark, sitting third. Over the next 500 meters, however, the U.S. kicked into gear, securing the lead.
“We believed in the fact that it’s a 2000-meter race,” says Katelin Snyder, 28, the team’s coxswain. “Our goal was just to stay completely internal.”
Besides Musnicki, 33, and Elle Logan 29, — who also won in London, and in Beijing — the team consists of Olympic rookies: Synder, 28, Amanda Elmore, 25, Amanda Polk, 30, Tessa Gobbo, 25, Kerry Simmonds, 27, Emily Regan, 28, Lauren Schmetterling, 28.
The win was particularly sweet for Snyder, who was cut from the national team in 2010, before the London Olympics. Soon after, she lost her 21-year-old brother Jake to cancer. “This feels way better than it would have had I made the team in London,” Snyder says. “I learned so much from getting cut. Personally, I learn a lot more from my failures than I do from my mistakes.”
In other rowing results Saturday morning: American Gevvie Stone won silver in women’s single sculls. In men’s single sculls, Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand won a photo finish over Croatia’s Martin Damir, taking gold by 5-thousandths of a second. Great Britain’s men’s eight rowing team took gold later Saturday morning, with the U.S. team coming in fourth.
But it was U.S. women’s eight squad who ruled the lagoon. A certain media outlet labeled the team “The Most Dominant Olympic Team You’ve Never Heard Of.” Might eleven straight world titles change this? “I would do this if there was no recognition at all,” says Snyder. “So should it? I don’t know. I don’t care.”