THE U.S. MEN'S and women's eight-man rowing crews rode strong tailwinds to world records in their qualifying heats on Sunday, building hopes for America's first Olympic sweep of the sport's marquee event. Victories in this Sunday's finals would help erase the memory of a long series of disappointments.
Beginning in 1900 U.S. men won the finals in the eights in 11 of the first 14 Olympics but haven't taken a gold since '64, even though they've won five world titles in the past decade. "Our Olympic winless streak is the unspoken albatross," says Jason Read, the U.S. bow. "We need to change that." The U.S. men trailed Canada, the two-time defending world champion and gold medal favorite, from the start of Sunday's 2,000-meter heat but slipped to the front in the final 200 meters, finishing in 5:19.85. "If we raced Canada a hundred times, it would flip-flop every time," said U.S. coach Mike Teti. "They are a great boat." A month ago Teti replaced half his lineup with members of the U.S. four-man crew that had won a major race in Lucerne, Switzerland, essentially sacrificing one good boat for what he hoped would form a great one.
The women's eight led from start to finish, building a three-second advantage and holding off defending Olympic champion Romania by .22 of a second. "We were catching water [from wind-blown waves] the whole last 500 meters," said U.S. bow Kate Johnson. "I knew it was part of the Romanians' plan to come on us, but I thought, 'O.K., here they come. Bring it.'" --Brian Cazeneuve