Calendars have flipped and 2016 is upon us, which brings another Olympics just eight months away. Many passion-driven sports await their turn in the spotlight every four years and the United States women’s eight in rowing look to display their global dominance at the Summer Games once again.
The United States women’s eight has won 10 consecutive global titles and looks to extend its winning streak to three straight gold medals at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In September, the U.S. captured its latest world title at the World Rowing Championships in Lac Aiguebelette, France, by finishing ahead of New Zealand and Canada.
Katelin Snyder and Meghan Musnicki of the 2015 world championship-winning eight boat spoke to Sports Illustrated about their goals for the new year and lead up to the Olympics in Rio.
SI: 10 straight global titles is pretty impressive. What have been some keys to the dominance over such a long span of time and with so many people being a part of that?
Musnicki: I would say it’s the history of it. It’s the women that came before us and the bar that they have set. As a younger athlete or new athlete, you see how much they’ve pushed themselves. They lead by example. Our success in 2015 is, in my opinion, largely because of what came before us dating back to the Yale crews of the 70s. We can’t do what we do without them.
Snyder: We do a really good job as a team of building from each other’s successes. It’s also very competitive against each other because you want a spot on the team. We do a good job of building each other up with that competitive spirit. You’re never trying to beat somebody out or tear them up to make the boat. It’s always about lifting each other up.
SI:How different could the Olympic team be from the 2015 world championship team?
MM: The interesting thing about rowing is that the “try-out process” is not something that occurs during a set period of time. It’s not about how you perform in a particular week that will determine whether you make the team or not. It’s more of a culmination of performances and consistencies that build on each other. I have no idea what the line-up will be like in Rio compared to this past year. It could be totally different or similar. That’s the game. You want to perform at your best as often as possible and hope that it puts you in the position to bring speed to whatever boat that you’re in.
SI:How much added pressure comes with a winning streak that long?
MM: The U.S. has a target on it’s back. Every crew has a target on its back. You want to win. Every boat out there wants to win and I don’t think past performance dictates what we want to do as a crew. It’s more about what we can do as one group. If we are given the opportunity to do well, hopefully we all perform and capitalize on the opportunity. If that puts us in the position to cross the finish line first, then great.
Snyder: For me, it takes away the pressure. I think we had a really great regatta. I think the performance we had during the [world championship final] was the best performance that we could’ve put forth on that day. Every time that you go out on that race course and you set out what you planned to execute, that’s just a confidence booster. I feel even more confident for the next time that I go out there. I can tell myself ‘OK. I’ve done this before. I can do it again.’
SI:New Zealand was second to you in 2015. The past couple years it’s been Canada. Who presents the biggest threat to the United States?
MM: The fields in the women’s eight has become deeper and deeper every year. It’s exciting that New Zealand came in second. The British are right there. The Netherlands were there. Romania and Russia are always in the mix. You can’t discount anyone because on any given day, anyone can show up and lay out a great race.
KS: That’s why it’s so important for us to execute our race the way that we want to. When we go out there, I can’t affect how fast New Zealand or Canada go. I know they’re going to be smoking fast but as long as I can trust that we can be our best then it is what it is. If your best is a gold medal then that’s really awesome. If our best is a silver or a bronze, at least we’re going to walk away knowing that we did all we could.
SI:How much is the water situation in Rio talked about among the athletes?
MM: It’s actually not talked about at all among the athletes. We have people in our governing body that deal with it and are aware of the situation and are concerned for our safety and well-being. As long as they do their job, I can still do mine. Clean water is very important in any situation.
KS: It’s interesting how it kind of reflects our sport because we can’t control what anyone else does. We just have to get fast and show up and be our best selves. We now have to put our trust in the U.S. Olympic Committee, U.S. Rowing and FISA (the World Rowing Federation) to take care of that for us.
MM: This year was the qualification regatta so the talk among the immediate group of people in rowing was the performance of the U.S. team. The women were phenomenal and qualified every boat for the Olympics.
KS: We’re the only country to do that.
MM: It’s exceptional and exciting for what it means about the sport and the U.S. women. It’s been an honor to be a part of that with such a phenomenal group of female athletes.
SI:What’s the competition schedule look like before Rio?
MM: [Training started back up in the fall.] We won’t race internationally until May or June at the earliest. Between now and then it’s just some inter-squad racing and lots of grinding away.