RIO DE JANEIRO – Expectations for the U.S. women’s rowing eight could not have been higher coming into the Olympics. The eight hadn’t lost a race in 11 years and the women in the boat were tabbed “The Unbeatables” in the Sports Illustrated preview issue.
The Americans certainly looked the part Monday morning, easily posting the fastest time in qualifying at picturesque Lagoa Stadium to move directly to next Saturday’s final, where they will try to win a third straight gold.
The U.S., coached by Buffalo native and St. Joe’s graduate Tom Terhaar, covered the 2,000 meters in 6:06.34, more than eight seconds ahead of the Netherlands in their heat. Great Britain, which won the other heat to advance straight to the final, crossed in 6:09.52, more than three seconds slower than the U.S. eight.
The rowing events had been postponed on Sunday due to the windy conditions on the course, which sits on a lake in the heart of the city, surrounded by mountains with the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue high above. But the wind wasn’t an issue when the women’s eights competed Monday morning.
“The conditions were great for our race,” said Buffalo native Emily Regan, competing in her first Olympic race. “The wind shifts as you move down the course. But it was mostly a slight cross headwind.
“It was fun competing,” Regan said. “I told Kerry Simmonds after the race that it finally felt like we could call ourselves Olympians because we’ve competed at the Olympic Games.”
Regan and Simmonds were among seven first-timers in the Olympic eight, along with Amanda Polk, Lauren Schmetterling, Tessa Gabbo, Amanda Elmore and coxswain Katelin Snyder. Meghan Musnicki was in the 2012 boat. Eleanor Logan is the only woman who won gold in the eight in both the 2008 and ’12 Games.
The five other crews – New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, Romania and Australia – will compete in Wednesday morning’s repechage to determine which four will join the Americans and Brits in the final.
New Zealand had the third-best qualifying time (6:12.05), followed by Canada (6:12.44) and the Netherlands (6:14.36).
Canada finished second to the U.S. in London and the Netherlands captured the bronze medal.
The Americans showed no signs of being vulnerable, crossing more than four seconds ahead of their winning time from London.
They’ve won 10 straight international races since their last loss in 2005 and are seeking to equal Romania’s record of three straight golds, established from 1996-2004.
“I think it gives us confidence that we can put together a great race in this lineup,” Regan said. “We’re all looking forward to trying to gain speed over the rest of the week, so we can try and do something special in this lineup together.”
The U.S. women have five days to prepare for the biggest race of all. They go for the gold at 10:04 on Saturday, shortly before the men’s eight final. The U.S. men were second in their heat behind Germany and will compete for a spot in the final in Wednesday morning’s repechage.