Members of the United States crew celebrate after winning the gold medal… (Getty Images )
WINDSOR, England — After capturing the gold medal four years ago in Beijing, the U.S. women's eight filled a bottle with water from the rowing venue and brought it home.
It remained sealed for nearly four years, until the American crew arrived last month at Eton Dorney, the bucolic rowing center where the 2012 Olympic regatta is being held. Once there, they christened their boat with the Chinese water in an effort to infuse some of that previous good fortune.
It apparently worked.
The American women's eight boat beat Canada in a much-anticipated showdown Thursday, winning the U.S.' first rowing gold at these Games and continuing the crew's six-year winning streak.
Covering the course in 6 minutes 10.59 seconds, the United States led the entire race. Canada finished second after a slow start, and the Netherlands claimed third.
The U.S. crew members — coxswain Mary Whipple and rowers Caryn Davies, Caroline Lind, Eleanor Logan, Meghan Musnicki, Taylor Ritzel, Esther Lofgren, Zsuzsanna Francia and Erin Cafaro — threw up their arms and screamed in celebration after crossing the finish line. Many of them wobbled as they stepped off the boat, their legs shaking like jello from 2,000 meters of sheer exertion.
And though several members joked about the magical powers of their Beijing bottle, they all acknowledged it required more than a few ounces of brownish water to protect a rowing dynasty.
"I think it takes selflessness and the ability to come together as a group," Whipple said. "On the one side, it's just one 2k race. But on the other side, it's the Olympic Games. We just wanted to be up there, look each other in the eye — even though we are facing backward — and just enjoy it, one stroke at a time."
The U.S. boat is unbeaten in major competitions since 2006, though Canada came within .03 of a second of the American crew at the World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland. In this year's U.S. eight, there are six holdovers from the Beijing Games, two of whom also won silver in 2004.
Having stood atop the podium for the third time, the U.S. is now tied with Romania and the former East Germany for the most gold medals in the event.
"That is an American dynasty, baby," said Francia, the Hungarian-born model who has won two Olympic gold medals and four world championships with the U.S. crew. "It's just so special."
A few members of the Canadian boat appeared to have been crying shortly before a post-race news conference, though they insisted they all had shed happy tears. At least two rolled their eyes when asked how they could end America's rowing reign.
"They won't be the same USA team [four years from now] and we won't be the same Canadian team, so you cannot predict anything," said longtime Canadian coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie, 52, whose silver medal Thursday made her the second-oldest person ever to win a rowing medal.
Canada made a strong final sprint Thursday, as it bested the U.S. boat in the last 500-meter split but still lost by 1.47 seconds. Despite a shaky finish by the U.S., Whipple says she never doubted her crew would be adding another medal to its trophy case.
"When we launched, it was game over," she said. "I felt so much power. When we took our stride, that was beautiful. We were a little high. I just told them to breathe … to be present. And we were present that whole time. It was magical."