Rowing’s fastest boat for women - the eight
21/06/2012 - 17:48:00
Eight rowers, eight oars, one cox, one boat. These are the key requirements to making an eight – the fastest rowing boat on the water. Every stroke moves the boat over an impressive distance as the power behind each oar is transferred into speed.
Each stroke is guided by the experience and encouragement of the coxswain, who is far from dead weight in the boat. Coxes give everything they have to get the most out of each individual and ensure that all eight athletes become a single unit moving as one.
The 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada, saw the first ever race of women’s eights line up at the start of an Olympic Rowing Regatta. The former nation of East Germany took gold at these Games. Romania, the nation that was to become the powerhouse of the women’s eight also raced at this regatta, but it took them another Olympiad to become Olympic medallists and until 1996 to become Olympic Champions. Having won an Olympic medal in this boat class at every Games since 1980, they sit at the top of the Olympic medals table with a total of eight Olympic medals won solely in this event: three gold, three silver and two bronze. Such a medal haul means it will take some time before their position at the top of the table can truly be threatened.
The Atlanta Games were a huge success for the Romanian eight. Finishing over five and a half seconds over their closest rivals Canada, the crew of eight strong athletes and one determined coxswain had finally achieved what Romanian eights before them had been chasing: Olympic gold. Sitting in four-seat was Elisabeta Lipa-Oleniuc who had already won a total of five Olympic medals (including two gold) in other boat classes at the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Games. Her immense experience, talent and strength brought something special to the crew.
The 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney again saw Romanian dominance in the women’s eight at its peak, and Lipa-Oleniuc was again part of it. Coming into the closing stages of this race the result was clear. Romania crossed the line a length ahead of the Netherlands, who had nothing else to give.
The Athens Olympiad saw some uncertainties for this powerboat however. Romania became World Champions in 2001 but in 2002 were off the podium, finishing in fourth place. Romania did not go into the 2004 Games in poll position, having finished second to Germany at the World Rowing Championships the year before. However, the Romanians perform when it really matters. Their goal was to make it a hat-trick and that is exactly what they did. For a while it looked as though 2002 World Champions the USA would deny the reigning Olympic Champions of gold but by the 1,500m mark the Romanians had taken control of the race and at that point there was no stopping them. Gold in this race made it Lipa-Oleniuc’s fifth Olympic gold, bringing her personal collection of Olympic medals to eight.
The women’s eight is certainly a boat class from which come many of the sport’s most medalled female athletes. Seven of the top ten active female rowers are native to the women’s eight, and six of those are from the same nation: the United States. Names like Mary Whipple, Caroline Lind and Susan Francia have become synonymous with our sport, and it is because of this boat class. When Romania had been dominating the women’s eight scene, the United States had been ‘in the mix’ of medals for many years, dabbling in success but never really taking charge long enough to be considered an unstoppable force. That all changed in 2006.
Winning a World Championship title is special in any athlete’s career. The United States’ win at Eton Dorney in 2006 was special, but what was to come was even more so, for this nation has been unbeaten ever since, collecting a total of five World Championship titles and one Olympic title in a row. Going into the Olympics as World Champions can be a dangerous thing; some may even consider it bad luck, but not the women of the USA women’s eight. World Champions in 2007, they raced the final at the 2008 Olympic Games as though no other crew was around them. It was their race from start to finish as each stroke of the 2,000m race brought them closer to Olympic glory. In the years leading up to this summer’s Olympic Games they have remained untouchable, collecting World Cup and World Championship gold each time they have raced.
The United States has owned this event for six years and don’t plan on giving it away any time soon. However, coming into the 2012 Olympic Games they may be under more pressure than ever. At the 2012 Samsung World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, Canada’s eight, coxed by the very-medalled Lesley Thompson-Willie, pushed the United States into unchartered territory. The United States crossed the line a mere three hundredths of a second ahead of their challengers and set a new World Best Time in the process. With this being the only appearance by the United States crew in 2012 before the Games and their final line-up still unconfirmed, the women’s eight will certainly live up to its status as being one of the most exciting races of the Olympic Rowing Regatta.
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