AFTER THE U.S. men's eight crossed the finish line first on Sunday, bow Jason Read tried to strike a gold medal pose. Euphoric but exhausted, he lifted his arms over his head as he attempted to stand--and toppled sideways into the water. "I thought I was about to lose my guts," said Read, whose teammates were equally spent.
In winning the U.S.'s first Olympic title in the event since 1964, the crew justified a bold decision by coach Mike Teti. After seeing his team's strength in practices and noting the forecast of a headwind for the final, Teti told his squad to stay with the field for 10 strokes and then hit the accelerator. "I was surprised just how fast we started pulling away," said Bryan Volpenhein, the team's stroke. "The guys were like a stable of spooked horses with their eyes wide open. When that happens, you just ride 'em." The U.S. team held a lead of more than three seconds over the bunched field at the 1,000-meter midway point and held on to beat the Netherlands by 1.27 seconds. "It was a risk," said Teti. "It was a commitment. And everyone bought in."
Soon after, the gold medalists were greeted on the dock by members of the U.S. women's eight, who just 20 minutes earlier had finished second to two-time defending champion Romania to earn the first medal of the Athens Games for American rowers. "Watching the men win after we got silver was the perfect end to the day," said five seat Anna Mickelson, "because we still got to hear our national anthem."
Teti played to his team's colors all week, each night screening highlights of victorious U.S. swimmers for his rowers and reminding them of the support shown by U.S. team alumni, many of whom had suffered through more than a decade of frustrating losses. "The Olympians from '68 on have come to our practices, shared war stories, sent letters of encouragement and offered moral support," Teti said. "We owed it to them to end this drought." --B.C.