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TOKYO – For the first time in Olympic history, not a single U.S. crew that participated in the Olympic regatta will leave Tokyo with a medal around their necks. The U.S. has medaled in every Olympic regatta, save for 1908 and 1980 when the nation didn’t compete, since its inception at the Games in 1900.
All nine boats fell short of the podium, with five crews reaching the A final – the women’s eight, men’s eight, lightweight women’s double, women’s double and men’s four. The women’s and men’s eight both finished fourth overall, the best result of any U.S. boat.
New Zealand and the Netherlands finished atop the medal count in rowing with five medals each. Seventeen countries won medals at the Tokyo regatta.
There were some smaller upsets, like 2019 world champion German single sculler Oliver Zeidler missing the A final in his event. However, no other nation with a strong history of winning medals besides the U.S. missed the podium completely.
Now U.S. Rowing says it will look internally to see what needs to change.
“As an organization, we have already started the process of reviewing our national team programs, which will include feedback and analysis from this Games,” U.S. Rowing high performance director Matt Imes said in a statement. Imes did not respond to an interview request by USA TODAY.
“USRowing is committed to making the necessary changes to provide our athletes with the best possible structure and environment to achieve success in Paris 2024 and beyond.”
New faces in the women's eight
Rowers were at a loss to explain the team's performance.
“I don't think there's anything that would've changed the effort that we put out there,” three-time Olympian in the women’s eight Meghan Musnicki said. “The drive that we put in, how hard we trained for the last five years. But I guess no. I don't think there's anything that would've changed that. All nine of us put it all out there today and I'm very proud of that.”
In the lanes of Sea Forest Waterway, the women’s eight ended their dominance at the Olympics, finishing behind first-place Canada, New Zealand and China in the medals. Coming into Tokyo, the U.S. had earned three straight gold medals at the Olympic Games, tied for the record set by Romania.
Despite its success at the Olympics, the U.S. eight hasn’t consistently been a force at recent world championships. In 2019, the women’s eight finished in third place behind New Zealand and Australia. In 2017, the eight failed to medal, with Romania taking gold. But only coxswain Katelin Guregian and four rowers – Musnicki, Olivia Coffey, Gia Doonan and Kristine O’Brien – were in the 2019 boat and the Tokyo boat. Only Guregian was in the 2017 boat.
“Look at these faces,” Musnicki said. “Look at the faces last year. The year before that. All the faces are different. That's the coolest, in my opinion, one of the coolest things about racing for the U.S. women is how deep the squad is and how it cycles women in and out and it's different from year to year."
COVID-19 presented a plethora of challenges to rowers internationally, with the U.S. being no exception. In March 2020, the women’s national team had a COVID-19 breakout at its Princeton boathouse that left 12 members testing positive or later found to have antibodies. From March until January 2021, the U.S. couldn’t train in boats bigger than singles, doubles or pairs. The additional year before the Tokyo Games forced athletes to rewire their training plans and personal lives.
But following their fourth-place finish in the A final, members of the women’s eight showed no signs of regret toward how they handled an unpredictable year.
“I have said this to the group, I would do the whole five years over again, even knowing what the result would be,” Guregian said. “That's how much these women mean to me. That's how much lining up at the Olympics with these eight strong, independent, incredible women, that's how much that means to me. It's the honor of my lifetime and I wouldn't give it up for anything.”
Men's eight coach under investigation
Similarly, men’s eight coxswain Julian Venonsky emphasized his pride in his crew following the boat’s fourth-place finish behind gold medalists New Zealand, Germany and Great Britain. The U.S. finished 1.02 seconds behind the British boat and contended for third place for most of the race.
“We had a good piece,” Venonsky said. “We're up against five of the fastest boats in the world and this is the tip-top stage. So it's disappointing. Obviously we'd like to medal. Obviously we'd like to win gold, but coming out of it, it stings always. It always does. But looking back, we're proud of what we did.”
The result comes in the wake of an ongoing investigation commissioned by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee of U.S. Rowing’s national team programs, including the men’s team based in Oakland. In a report from the Associated Press, men’s eight head coach Mike Teti has been denounced by some rowers for being “verbally abusive and manipulative.”
Venonsky said he and teammates have not focused on the investigation.
“I have total confidence in US Rowing and in our coaching staff," Venosky said. "So I'm just proud of what we did and we did it together. It was not one person. It was the whole program.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US rowers shut out of medals at Olympics for first time, look to 2024