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Harvard Olympians Reflect on Experiences in London

The spectacle of the Olympics, if nothing else, can be overwhelming.

“It’s so amazing here that I’m just trying to compartmentalize things,” Esther Lofgren ’07-’09 of the USA women’s eight said. “In some ways, I’m like a wide-eyed kid, just so happy to be here and amazed by everything, and then there’s a part of me I have to bring to the race.”

So far, Lofgren and her boat-mates—including fellow alum Caryn Davies ’04-’05—have been able to do just that, cruising to victory in their heat on Sunday and advancing to Thursday’s A Final. The USA boat is the defending Olympic champion and six-time defending World Champion. Despite coming in as the odds-on favorite and having dominated international competition for the last half-decade, there is an added element of randomness brought about by the magnitude of the Olympic Games.

“In training and competition we tell ourselves that it’s just another race,” Lofgren said. “But it’s not. It’s different, it’s the Olympics. It’s special.”

Though rowing is perhaps more prominent in England than in any other country, the Olympics have brought a new level to the fanfare, and the stands at Eton Dorney have been nearly sold out every day—even in the heat stages.

“On the water, it’s basically the same as a World Championships,” Will Newell ’11 said. “But there’s a whole fan and media presence that I’ve never seen before that is really exciting.”

Lofgren’s Olympic moment will most likely come on Thursday, as the USA remains a favorite for gold. For Davies, it would mean the third medal in as many games, winning Silver in Athens and Gold in Beijing, part of a long and fruitful Olympic career.

For others, like Newell, the London Olympics have ended almost as quickly as they started.

After finishing last in their heat, America’s men’s lightweight four bounced back and won the repechage to earn a spot in the first semi-final Tuesday morning. After staying level for the first 1,500 meters, they faded, finishing fifth and being relegated to the B Final on Thursday.

“Today just wasn’t our day,” Newell said. “We raced our hearts out, and that’s really all you can do. We obviously wanted to make the A final, I mean who doesn’t. Now we just want to do the best that we can in the B final.

Somewhere between the Olympic experiences of Newell and Lofgren lies the experience of Henrik Rummel ’09. Rummel, also in his first Olympics, surprised a number of onlookers as his USA boat—racing together for the first time in international competition—won their heat on Monday in impressive fashion in the men’s four. The four is among the more competitive of all the races at Eton Dorney this week.

“I would say that things have exceeded my expectations so far,” Rummel said. “You can’t let yourself get delusions of grandeur, but we didn’t expect to control and command the race like that in the opening heat.”

Rummel and the American boat will be rowing in a semifinal on Thursday, hoping for a good row and a spot in the A Final. Before the Games, Rummel noted that the untested USA boat was very fast and “ready to surprise some people.” America has not medaled in the coxless four since a silver in the 1992 Barcelona Games.

“We hope to win the race, and I think that if we row to our potential, we can and we will,” Rummel said.

Lofgren’s blockmate while at Harvard was two-time Winter Olympian, hockey player Caitlin Cahow ’07-’08. Before going to London, Lofgren consulted Cahow for advice on how to handle the Olympic spotlight.

“[Cahow] told me to just take it in: when you’re racing, you’re racing, when you’re practicing, you’re practicing, but other than that, just be the little kid you want to be,” Lofgren said. “So I just sit in the dining hall and say ‘Wow, I’m sitting here eating with my heroes. I’m racing at the Olympics. This is what I’ve dreamed about forever.’”

Andrew R. Mooney contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Alexander Koenig can be reached at akoenig@college.harvard.edu.

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