WINDSOR, England -- Every boat comes into a regatta with a race plan, whether it's pushing hard through the middle 1,000 or reserving energy to make a move with 500 meters left to go. The game plan for the U.S. women's eight-oar crew, however, was perfectly simple: A blistering pace from start to finish.
Five-hundred meters into the race, once they found their rhythm in the water, the U.S. had already built a 1.01-second lead on the Netherlands, which ultimately finished with a bronze medal, its fourth straight Olympic podium finish. At the 1,500-meter mark, the U.S. led Canada, which had pulled ahead of the Netherlands, by 2.24 seconds. Though the Canadian crew made a valiant push in the second half of the race, posting the field's best splits in the final two 500 meters, it was not enough.
When they streaked across the finish line first at Eton Dorney Thursday afternoon, the U.S. women lifted their arms in celebration and splashed the still water of Dorney Lake, before collapsing into each other's laps in the hull of their Empacher boat. It looked easy, or so it seemed.
Minutes after the race, Caroline Lind, the U.S.'s seventh seat, got out of the boat, climbed a flight of stairs and asked half-jokingly but mostly seriously, "Is there a chair or something?"
"[I feel] tired," she said in between huffs. "But this is the only way I would want to feel after an Olympic final. I committed to myself and all of my teammates to give it everything I had today. And at the end, I don't think I could've pulled one more stroke."
Fortunately for her, she didn't need to. The U.S. women's 8+ exhibited their sheer superiority today, winning their seventh straight international race. Having gone undefeated in major world regattas for the last seven years, including winning each World Championship since 2006, this crew could make the claim to be the most dominant team here in London.
Consider this: In April 2005, the last time they lost a race, Taylor Ritzel, this gold-medal-winning team's youngest member, hadn't even pulled an oar yet -- she began rowing as a freshman at Yale in 2006. But no matter the personnel (though six of the nine women in the boat had competed in Beijing), this crew has just continued to win and win again.
"It's pretty amazing [what the U.S. has accomplished]," Canadian rower Darcy Marquardt said. "We did what we could on the day, and it's a silver medal at the Olympic Games."
Canada, which had qualified for the final by posting the best time in heats (0.77 seconds faster than the U.S.), was thought to be the Americans' main obstacle on their way to a second straight Olympic gold medal. At the World Rowing Cup stop in Lucerne, Switzerland last May, the U.S. edged the Canadian crew by just .03 seconds. In rowing terms, that margin might even be slighter than a fingernail.
"They beat us today because they were the better crew," said Canada's coxswain, Lesley Thompson-Willie, 52, who earned her sixth medal in her seventh Olympic Games. "[But next time we meet,] it won't be the same U.S. team that will be sitting here. We won't be the same Canadian team. On the day, you have to measure who you line up against."
But Tuesday afternoon, in the brilliant sunshine on the English countryside, there was no catching the U.S. crew, which led wire to wire and crossed the finish in 6:10.59, about half a boat length in front of Canada.
"When we took our stride, that was beautiful," U.S. coxswain Mary Whipple said. "I just told them to breathe and enjoy this moment."
And on Thursday, as it has been for the last six years, there wasn't a crew who could measure up against the U.S.'s awesome eight.