Gordon White: America's 'Other' Olympic Dynasties
Dynasty is our attribution for continuing Olympic success by athletes such as the Americans Al Oerter, who won four gold medals in the discus throw; Carl Lewis, who earned nine gold medals including four in the long jump; and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, whose six Olympic medals included three gold in women’s heptathlon and long jump.
Then there are the U.S. men’s and women’s basketball teams that, despite a burp here and there, have been Olympic dynasties for years and years, as has our women’s soccer team that won its third consecutive gold medal last Thursday.
Another such dynasty is the U.S. beach volleyball tandem of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, winners of their third straight Olympic gold last Wednesday.
But the greatest of them all is Michael Phelps, a one-man dynasty with 22 medals, including 18 gold, earned during the last three Olympic Games. No other person comes close to those incredible achievements.
All of the above, and many more very successful athletes, have earned deserved notoriety for their efforts.
Numerous other nations have also achieved continuous successes in certain sports, such as China in both men’s and women’s diving.
Then there are equally successful but less heralded athletes almost lost in the circus-like atmosphere of an Olympic Games.
For instance, there is the nearly invincible American women’s eight-oar rowing crew. Urged on by the spunky little coxswain, Mary Whipple, those eight strong women won a second consecutive Olympic gold nine days ago.
Also, Kimberly Rhode, a breast cancer survivor, became the first U.S. athlete to win five Olympic medals in five consecutive Olympic Games. The 33-year-old Californian won gold in skeet shooting by hitting 99 of 100 moving targets with her shotgun.
Bringing Home the Gold
These 10 women got passing mention in headlines and stories out of London, but nothing like the attention paid to Phelps, our basketball teams and other athletes NBC put front and center during its canned prime time coverage. But each of these 10 winners will be going home with gold hanging around her neck.
One of those golden women will be coming home to Greensboro. She is Caroline Lind, who rowed from the seven seat in the victorious shell that led for every stroke over the 2,000 meters of the final race to beat out the Canadian crew by a bit over half a length.
The 29-year-old Lind is a graduate of Princeton University and one of six women in that shell who were also in the crew that won the Olympic gold medal in Beijing. Whipple, who was urging on that shell in Beijing, has been the coxswain since 2006, when the U.S. women’s eight won the world championship on Dorney Lake in Windsor, England, where they won the gold medal nine days ago. Our women’s eight-oar crew has not been beaten since. That includes the world championships in 2007, 2009 and 2011, plus Olympic gold in 2008 and this year.
The oldest member of the crew is Caryn Davies, a 30-year-old native of Ithaca, N.Y., and 2005 graduate of Harvard. She is currently attending Columbia Law School. The tallest and possibly strongest member of the crew at 6-foot-4, Davies is just the right size for a championship stroke seat. She has been a member of the American crew since 2004, when the U.S. women won the silver medal at the Athens Olympic Games.
Davies, born in April 1982, is just a month older than Mary Whipple, who was born in Sacramento, Calif., along with a twin sister, Sarah, who is an assistant rowing coach at the University of California. Mary is a University of Washington graduate.
The other crew members who shared in Beijing gold are Erin Cafaro, a 29-year-old graduate of the University of California and native of the Golden State; Eleanor Logan, 24, a Maine native who went to Stanford University; and the Hungarian born Zsuzsanna (Susan) Francia, who is a 29-year-old graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Susan and her parents immigrated to the United States when she was 2 years old.
Also on the crew are Meghan Musnicki, a 29-year-old native of Naples, N.Y., and graduate of Ithaca College; Esther Lofgren, a 27-year-old Californian who is a 6-foot 2-inch graduate of Harvard; and Taylor Ritzel, the youngest crew member at 24. Ritzel is a resident of Larkspur, Colo., and graduate of Yale.
When the American women won the gold in England, Francia yelled at dockside, “Yeah! That is an American dynasty, baby.”
It surely is.
The Road to Rio
That entire crew will not be together for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. Whipple, the coxswain, is retiring and some of the older oarswomen may join her. So the American rowing program, little publicized but quite effective, must come up with a few new excellent oarswomen if this dynasty is to live on in four years.
In the case of Kimberly (Kim) Rhode, however, she may keep shooting her way to Olympic medals for at least one more Olympic Games and possibly more than Rio. She was only 17 when she won her first Olympic gold medal, taking that prize in women’s double trap shooting at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
She followed that with a bronze in double trap shooting in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics and got a gold medal again in the 2004 games in Athens.
Then trap shooting was dropped from the Olympic Games. Kim, who had finished seventh at Sydney and fifth at Athens in skeet shooting, came up with a silver medal in skeet shooting at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the gold medal in London.
Both trap shooting and skeet shooting involve the use of a shotgun to hit a moving clay disc target sent into the air by a catapult of sorts.
Rhode’s MX-12 Perazzi shotgun was stolen after her return from Beijing. She said that being forced to use a new shotgun was like a swimmer switching from the breaststroke to diving. But she won in London with the new shotgun even though her old gun was recovered by police 18 months after it was stolen.
No other American athlete has won an individual medal in five straight Olympic Games. But then, how many 11-year-old girls have gone, gun at the ready, on an African safari with their fathers, as Kimberly did?
She was winning shooting competitions long before she reached her first Olympic Games in 1996. At 13 Rhode won the women’s world championship in double trap shooting. She has been referred to by some shooting experts as “the best shooter in history — woman or man.”
These nine members of our winning crew plus Rhode are fine poster girls for the XXX Olympic Games that conclude today, since this is the first Olympics, summer or winter, in which each nation entered (204 countries in London) has at least one woman athlete competing.
Sgt. Vincent Hancock of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga., is another American champion with a shotgun. This 23-year-old marksman became the first skeet shooter, man or woman, to win two Olympic gold medals when he hit a record 148 of 150 targets over the two days of competition, including 25 of 25 in the final round at London’s Royal Artillery Barracks shooting range.
Like Rhode, Hancock was winning world titles at a young age. He took the world championship in skeet shooting at 16.
Rhode (pronounced Roadie) and Hancock, along with the eight oarswomen and coxswain of our gold medal rowing crew, have received some attention for their London successes. But hardly enough.
Remember Rhode and Hancock when the Rio Olympics come around in 2016. They will surely be favored to win gold.
The U.S. eight-oar women’s shell may have some new crew members, but it should also be favored to win in Rio.
The U.S. has won much gold in England. That is why it is worth remembering those golden performances that are not among the marquee sports because, after all, a skeet shooting gold or rowing gold is just as important in the big count as a swimming or basketball gold.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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