U.S. Olympic women’s eight rowing team set to be named, eyes extending dynasty

U.S. rowing women's eight
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LUCERNE, Switzerland (AP) — The saying ”don’t change a winning team” doesn’t apply to the U.S. women’s eight, the most successful boat in international rowing.

The Americans have won 10 consecutive world and Olympic titles in the event, a winning streak that is unmatched in most sports but little known outside the rowing world.

The U.S. has dominated the event since 2006 even though coach Tom Terhaar has consistently changed the lineup, moving rowers around the boat or replacing them with others, eager to be part of a seemingly self-perpetuating dynasty.

The competition to make the women’s eight boat is so fierce that even athletes who consistently perform at the highest level know that no one is guaranteed a spot when Terhaar picks his crew for the Olympics on June 20.

”That’s one of the things that feeds into the success of the team,” said Meghan Musnicki, the longest-serving member of the crew, with six Olympic and World Championship gold medals in the event since 2010. ”There’s no room to get comfortable.”

The 34-year-old from Naples, Florida, helped the U.S. boat fight off a late challenge from Great Britain to win a World Cup regatta on May 29 in Lucerne, Switzerland – the last international test for the Americans before Rio.

Of the nine women in the boat (eight rowers plus coxswain Katelin Snyder), five remained from the crew that won gold in last year’s World Championships. Only two, Musnicki and Eleanor Logan, competed in the women’s eight in the previous Summer Games.

”For every kid that’s here we’ve got one who isn’t here who pushes these guys,” Terhaar said, as his rain-soaked crew disassembled the boat on the banks of lake Rotsee in Lucerne. ”So it’s never the same people. It’s always new people.”

Terhaar, who has been in charge of the U.S. women’s team since 2001, said he’s looking for powerful and tall rowers for the eight, the biggest and fastest boat in rowing.

”Our stroke right now is not the tallest kid. But she strikes up a good rhythm,” he said of Amanda Elmore, of West Lafayette, Indiana, who sits closest to the stern. ”So it really depends on the group that you have. You try to play around and find something that works.”

Some teams tend to stick with crews that have performed well in the past. New Zealand’s lineup in Lucerne was identical to the one that finished second behind the Americans in last year’s World Championships.

Like the U.S., Great Britain has tried many different lineups since placing fifth at the London Olympics, and appears to have found the strongest yet this year. The Brits won the European Championships in May and followed up with a strong performance in Lucerne, beating New Zealand to the finish line, less than a second behind the U.S. boat.

Katie Greves, who will be competing in her third Olympics in Rio, said that race changed the ”mindset” of the crew. Instead of hoping for a bronze medal, the British women now see themselves as the biggest threat to the Americans.

”You don’t want to give them too much respect. They are only rowers,” Greves said. ”There is no reason we can’t beat them, just because they have this historical pedigree.”

Each sport measures success differently so winning streaks are hard to compare. But it’s difficult to find a team in any sport that can match the U.S. team’s 10 consecutive gold medals in the women’s eight.

Norwegian figure-skater Sonja Henie won 13 straight world and Olympic titles from 1927-36. The Soviet Union won nine consecutive world and Olympic gold medals in ice hockey (1963-71). In rowing, the U.S. dominated the men’s eight with eight consecutive Olympic titles (1920-56). At that time there were no world championships.

”They’ve done a ton of research to try to find another team in any sport that has had such a winning dynasty, and they weren’t able to find one,” Musnicki said. ”It’s special. It’s an honor and a privilege to be part of it.”

Despite the intense competition, there’s also an unmistakable camaraderie among the U.S. rowers, whether they make the team or not, said Snyder, the 28-year-old coxswain from Detroit. She was deeply disappointed not to make the cut for the 2012 Olympics, but has coxed the women’s eight since the year after.

In an event where synchronization is paramount, gelling with and pushing your team mates means as much as a powerful stroke, she said.

”You don’t go fast by beating another girl,” Snyder said. ”You go fast by being your best self and bringing that girl with you.”

MORE: Musnicki, poetic pride of Naples, is veteran leader of U.S. eight

2022 Ironman Kona World Championships results

Ironman Kona World Championships

2022 Ironman Kona World Championship top-10 results and notables (full, searchable pro and age group results are here) …

Pro Women
1. Chelsea Sodaro (USA) — 8:33:46
2. Lucy Charles-Barclay (GBR) — 8:41:37
3. Anne Haug (GER) — 8:42:22
4. Laura Philipp (GER) — 8:50:31
5. Lisa Norden (SWE) — 8:54:43
6. Fenella Langridge (GBR) — 8:56:26
7. Sarah Crowley (AUS) — 9:01:58
8. Daniela Ryf (SUI) — 9:02:26
9. Skye Moench (USA) — 9:04:31
10. Laura Siddall (GBR) — 9:07:49
16. Heather Jackson (USA) — 9:22:17
DNF. Sarah True (USA)

Pro Men
Race is on Saturday, live on Peacock at 12 p.m. ET.

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Chelsea Sodaro wins Ironman Kona World Championship, ends American drought

Chelsea Sodaro

Chelsea Sodaro was the surprise winner of the Ironman Kona World Championships women’s race, ending the longest American victory drought in the event’s 44-year history.

Sodaro, a 33-year-old mom to an 18-month-old, prevailed in an unofficial 8 hours, 33 minutes, 46 seconds on Hawaii’s Big Island.

“My mind is a little bit blown right now,” she said in a finish area interview 25 minutes later, standing next to her daughter, Skylar. “This is the culmination of things being right in my life and having perspective. … This is freakin’ incredible, but the greatest gift at the end of the finish line is my little 18-month-old.”

Sodaro was in fifth place after the 2.6-mile swim and 112-mile bike, then recorded one of the fastest 26.2-mile marathon runs in event history (2:51:45) to win by 7 minutes, 50 seconds over Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay.

Swiss Daniela Ryf, who was eyeing her sixth Ironman world title, led after the bike but faded quickly on the run.

MORE: Ironman Kona Race Results

Sodaro, whose lone previous full Ironman was a second-place finish at June’s European Championships (reportedly in the second-fastest Ironman distance debut in history), became the first American to win in Kona since Tim DeBoom in 2002 and the first American to win the women’s race since Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser in 1996.

She is the first woman or man to win in their Kona debut since Brit Chrissie Wellington took the first of her four titles in 2007.

Sodaro (née Reilly) was an All-America runner at Cal, then placed 19th in the 10,000m at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.

She turned to triathlon in 2017, made podiums on the World Cup circuit (just below the top-level World Series for Olympic hopefuls) and moved up to long-distance racing in 2018.

At the half Ironman distance, she was fourth at the 2019 World Championships, her last major championship start before the pandemic, pregnancy, childbirth and a move up to the full Ironman this year.

“I’m pretty stoked that I think I maybe get to take the rest of the year off and be a mom for a month or so,” Sodaro said.

The pro men’s race is Saturday, live on Peacock at 12 p.m. ET.

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