Francia, U.S. women's eight win second Olympic gold medal

Wearing their gold medals, the U.S. eight crew members celebrate.
Wearing their gold medals, the U.S. eight crew members celebrate. (NATACHA PISARENK / Associated Press)
Posted: August 03, 2012

WINDSOR, England - Susan Francia stepped off the dock, onto firmer ground, and made a bold and golden declaration.

"That is an American dynasty, baby," said the rower from the University of Pennsylvania and Abington High School. "That was a great race. It was a little bit tough conditions, but there was a lot of power in that boat. Just happy to continue the legacy."

With a stiff crosswind pushing them to the left, Francia and the U.S. women's eight crew did everything right to claim their second consecutive Olympic gold medal, winning in 6 minutes, 10.59 seconds. The Americans started fast, took an early lead, and never let up.

"That was our motto: Be greedy," Francia said. "If we get an inch, take another inch. Never just settle."

The U.S. crew, which trains full time in Princeton, hasn't lost a race since 2005. It has undergone some change - that's part of rowing - but Francia, Caroline Lind, coxswain Mary Whipple, and three others also were on the gold-medal team in 2008.

"It's great what we've done," the 29-year-old Francia said. "We were just looking forward. It's a new boat, it's a new race, it's a different course. We just had to get the next gold, you know?"

Still, they saved a bottle of water from Beijing and poured it on this boat for good luck. But luck wasn't really a factor on man-made Dorney Lake. It was pure, superior strength. Canada and the Netherlands stayed close, but settled for silver and bronze.

"I felt so much power," said Whipple, who is retiring. "When we took our stride, it was beautiful. We got into our rhythm, and it was just a crushing rhythm. It was relentless."

Whipple and Caryn Davies also were on the silver-medal-winning crew in Athens in 2004. Davies considered retiring after Beijing, but a talk with Whipple convinced her to stay on.

"When we were sitting on the start line, I thought about the thing Mary said to me when I was thinking about whether I wanted to come back and go for another Olympics," Davies said. "She said, 'I want to feel what it feels like to sit on that starting line, to have that excitement run through me.' There is just no feeling like that, having all that adrenaline running through you and knowing you can have a great performance if you just do what you know how to do. Thankfully, that's something I've been able to do for three Olympics now."

For Francia, there was no question about whether she wanted to come back. The question was whether she could. A herniated disk and a broken rib prevented her from rowing for crucial training months last year. But she stayed in shape and rowed her way back into her familiar spot.

"When I found out it was official that it was herniated," said Francia, who is 6-foot-2, "that's when I was worried. But you know what? I'm a tough person, I'm resilient, and here I am. It definitely was a rough year for me. I'm just glad I stuck with it and my teammates had confidence in me."

If Beijing was a delivery on promise, then London was a different sort of test. With a long winning streak in their pockets, the women in the U.S. eight also had bull's-eyes on their backs. The thing is, their opponents never get in position to see their backs.

"There were a lot of outside pressures," Francia said. "But the biggest pressure is what we put on ourselves. We were confident. We knew we could do it. We just had to get it done. It's a different journey, it's a different struggle, but the reward is just as great."

Just before the race began, Lind told Whipple, the coxswain: "You're our brain, and we're your body."

"What a beautiful body," Whipple replied.

And then they were off, an American dynasty.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

 

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