But even in such a dominant, historic race — the Americans defended the gold they won in 2008, and added the third in rowing’s signature event — there are other layers. The Olympics are about sports and form and grace, but from the surface, there is no telling what informs each athlete who carries out each task. So shortly after the boat, steered ably by three-time Olympic coxswain Mary Whipple, crossed the finish line, Esther Lofgren broke down.
“That’s the best feeling in the world,” Lofgren said later. And she sobbed.
Four years ago, when the foundation of this dynasty was being laid, Lofgren was the last cut from the American team. She had to watch from afar as her training partners, her teammates, won gold in Beijing.
“I couldn’t have been prouder and happier for them,” she said Thursday. “But it’s about the worst feeling in the world not to be there.”
Somewhere else on the shores of Dorney Lake, Lofgren’s mother Christine wore a T-shirt with the words “Team Lofgren” on the back, and she celebrated. How often do parents of Olympians understand, truly understand, what their children have endured? In 1984, Christine Lofgren was an elite rower, in line for the Los Angeles Games. In 1984, she was the last cut from the team. And in 1984, the United States went on to win its first gold in the event.
“It’s certainly not something I would dwell on or have regrets about or whatever,” Christine Lofgren said Thursday. “Well, the regrets, yeah.”
This shared experience, mostly unspoken between mother and daughter, rode in that boat Thursday, right there with each stroke by Lofgren and her teammates — Erin Cafaro, Francia, Taylor Ritzel, Meghan Musnicki, Eleanor Logan, Caroline Lind, Caryn Davies and Whipple, barking the orders — as they built a lead over Canada, which would win silver, and the Netherlands, which would win bronze. Six of the women already had gold from Beijing. Three did not.
“Being with the team at this level is just such a dream come true,” said Ritzel, one of the first-timers. “It’s a real honor.”
Lofgren felt the same way, through the tears. As the naming date for the 2008 Olympics approached, her parents — Christine, a professor at the University of California-Irvine, and Karl, a consultant who also rowed as a young man — read the tea leaves, and prepared for what might happen. After graduating from Harvard, Lofgren had moved to Princeton, N.J., to train to make the ’08 team, putting off immersion in the real world.
“I thought if she got cut, it’s going to be very difficult for her to tell me, to call me,” Christine Lofgren said. “And then I wondered how she would react emotionally. You worry: How is this going to affect her?”