RIO DE JANEIRO -- It was exactly 80 years ago Sunday that the United States men's eight rowing team -- now famously known as the Boys in the Boat -- won the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. One day shy of that anniversary, the U.S. women -- the Girls in the Boat? -- added to that legacy by rowing to their third consecutive gold medal at the Olympics and their fourth overall.
"The Boys in the Boat are special because I am a University of Washington alum. There is such great history there and it's cool to be a part of that history now,'' Kerry Simmonds said of the 1936 crew that was composed entirely of UW rowers. "What have we added to that legacy? As women, we're strong women, but I don't think gender is a big thing. You win Olympic gold no matter what gender you are. Boys in the Boat, Girls in the Boat, we're all just in the boat.''
The victory gave the U.S. 33 gold medals in rowing, matching the former East Germany for most ever by a country in the sport. East Germany is no more, but the Americans are currently the most dominant country in women's rowing. They have not lost an Olympic or world rowing championship in 10 years. Sports Illustrated recently headlined the eights as "The Unbeatables.''
Despite all those victories, coxswain (and another UW alum) Katelin Snyder said she is partly inspired by the 2004 Olympic team that took silver behind Romania. It was the first medal for the U.S. women since winning gold in 1984.
"So they did something that had essentially hadn't been done in 20 years,'' Snyder said. "I think that today we tried to draw power from that and attack the race as if [winning gold] had never been done before, even though it had. I think when you're in that mindset, you're able to do something special.''
Rowing at a magnificent venue surrounded by mountains, with the famous Christ the Redeemer statue visible -- "Seeing Christ the Redeemer up there is the coolest part for me,'' Simmonds said -- the U.S. women started off in third place but simply kept rowing hard and increasing their speed. Shortly after the halfway point, they pushed into first place and held it the rest of the way, winning with a time of 6:01.49, nearly 2 ½ seconds ahead of silver medalist Great Britain.
"One of the reasons why the Americans have such success in the eight is because they have such a huge setup of women competing at the collegiate level,'' British coxswain Zoe de Toledo said. "I think that sets a huge base for them, but I think we're starting to catch up and the rest of the world is starting to catch up as well.
"Remember, before the Americans were dominant, the Romanians were dominant. These things come up and down.''
That's the way sport is. But with the strength of women's crew in the United States and the considerable competition driving each rower to get better, it could be a while before there is a downturn for the American women.
Eleanor Logan doesn't see it. She won gold on the 2008 and 2012 teams as well but said Saturday's victory felt like a totally different experience to her and 2012 gold medalist Meghan Musnicki.
"We feel so fortunate to be part of this team,'' Logan said. "The hunger to be the best they can be every day has pushed us to a new level. We're not really comparing, we just had to look every day to be better ourselves.''
Meanwhile, the men's eight finished fourth behind Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. Perhaps like the 1936 team, they needed another couple additional Huskies in the boat (this year's team had four). Or a woman.
"We really are encouraged by the women who came before us and felt the culture of excellence,'' Simmonds said. "We just want to make them proud and ourselves proud and our coaches. And we're all working hard to build on the legacy that is the U.S. women.''