The United States women make really fast eights
The top spot on the women's eight medals podium has become rather, well, predictable. The United States senior women have held the spot non-stop since 2006. They have had one or two minor race losses, but when it comes to the World Rowing Championships and the Olympic Games, they are unbeaten in nine, yes that's nine, consecutive years.
The World Rowing Under 23 Championships have just come to a close in Plovdiv, Bulgaria and for the women's eight the US crew has created a similar winning picture. When they took the 2015 Under-23 Championship title it was their fourth gold in a row. And this year they also split the crew off to race in the women's four and women's pair. They won them all making a clean sweep of the women's sweep races.
It is common knowledge that the US women's sweep squad is able to pull from the huge university rowing scene where sweep rowing is de rigueur and the eight is the main boat. University crews are so good that they have sometimes raced in A-finals in World Rowing Cup races and they regularly do well in the eights races at the Henley Royal Regatta against international crews.
For the US women's eight in Plovdiv, the under-23 regatta fitted perfectly into their university rowing schedule. "University rowing is compatible and acts as a feeder programme for under-23 and senior national team programmes. We are sweeping here and we only sweep at the university as well so it definitely helps," says 3 seat, Alexandra Spaulding.
" We race (at university) from November. We build our base with the university teams, so we are generally very fit going into the under-23 camp. NCAA (university national championship regatta) is in June, we get a week off and then we go right to Princeton (national training centre) and we start training and doing selection," says coxswain Coletta Lucas-Conwell. "We are already very fit and it is just about selecting the boat for the World Championships."
Members of the under-23 eight look up to the senior women's eight with an element of awe. "We feel we are still so far away from their level," says 2 seat Erin Reelick. "It was great to spend some time in Princeton at the training camp with them and see how they go about with their training and routines. It is a dream to be there and we are always striving to be there."
" We start off as juniors and then try to make the under-23's," says Reelick. "These are all stepping stones. And by the end of your career you want to be here (in the senior eight)."
Spaulding agrees, " It is everyone's dream and main goal to be sitting in that boat."
The progression to reach the goal of being part of the senior women's eight is very clear. There is just one path and that is through the Princeton training centre where Tom Terhaar is head coach and has been the key player behind the winning streak. Spaulding, Reelick and their crewmates are under no illusions. To get there is hard.
"You need to prove yourself through hard work, good results and fast ergs to get invited to the training centre. The path is clear, just getting there is hard," says Reelick.
There is also the pressure of expectation. "We have placed in the top three in this event (at the under-23 championships) for a long time," says Lucas-Conwell. "But going into the event we have to just try and do what we've been doing in training and not think about the US past, because otherwise it gets too much. We feel the pressure for sure."
The Unites States under-23 women's eight at this year's World Rowing Under 23 Championships was made up of, Jessica Eiffert, Erin Reelick, Alexandra Spaulding, Mia Croonquist, Elizabeth Youngling, Sarah Dougherty, Georgia Ratcliff, Kendall Chase and coxswain Colette Lucas-Conwell. They finished in a time of 6:19, three seconds ahead of Russia in second.