Whether it’s your first, second, or third time, the feeling is always the same.
That was what Esther Lofgren ’07-’09, Malcolm Howard ’05, and Caryn Davies ’04-’05 found out this week when the trio of former Harvard rowers won medals at the London Olympics.
Early Thursday morning, Davies and Lofgren won gold in the women’s eight, a victory that came almost exactly 24 hours after Howard captained his Canadian team to the silver in the men’s version of the same event.
With its victory, the heavily-favored American boat anchored by Davies and Lofgren—the fourth-ever USA Olympic boat to feature two former Radcliffe rowers—defended its 2008 Olympic title and maintained an undefeated streak that has spanned the last half-decade. It was the first Olympic medal for Lofgren and the third overall for Davies, who was part of the teams that won gold in Beijing and got silver in the same event at the 2004 Games in Athens.
Though Davies—now the most decorated rower in Harvard history—had been there before, the top of an Olympic podium was a position Lofgren has been working towards for quite some time. After taking time away from Harvard in 2007 to try-out for the Beijing games, Lofgren fell just short of making the squad. It was a fate her mother had also experienced in 1984, when as a rower she likewise barely missed out on making the Olympic team. So Lofgren returned to school more motivated than ever to make it to London and realize a dream she and her mother shared.
“The last four years have been a fight to be the best rower I can be, to push myself past what others and what I thought my limits were, to, if nothing else, make sure that I had used each day as best I could to never feel that feeling [of being cut] again,” she wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed this week.
And after achieving that goal and getting to the Olympics at long last, the rower—who since graduating has taken jobs as a tutor, barista, sandwich-maker, and babysitter to get by financially while training—made the most of her opportunity.
On Thursday, she, Davies—currently a student at Columbia Law School—and their seven boatmates raced to victory with a time of 6:10.59, besting the silver-medalist Canada squad by two seconds.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Lofgren said in the post-race press conference. “We just went, we were going with everybody in the boat and we were having the best race of our lives.”
Howard was similarly euphoric after captaining his eight to the silver on Wednesday, an achievement that gave him a second career medal to go with the gold one he earned as part of the Canadian squad that won the same event in 2008.
“This is an unbelievable feeling,” the Harvard alum told the Vancouver Sun after the race. “I told [my team] how proud I was of them.”
But the week initially didn’t go as smoothly for Howard’s squad as it did for that of Lofgren and Davies, which cruised to victory in its heat on Sunday before advancing to Thursday’s Class A final.
The Canadians, on the other hand, placed fifth in the opening round, as the boat’s inexperience—it featured six first-time Olympians—almost caused it to miss out on the final altogether. But with everything on the line, the crew came together, thanks in large part to Howard’s leadership.
“There were nerves but Malcolm did a great job of keeping us calm and confident,” Andrew Byrnes, one of only two other returnees from the 2008 gold medalists, told the Sun.
The Canadians could not duplicate their victory in 2012, falling to a heavily-favored German squad that had not lost a race in four years. But for Howard—whose boat’s time of 5:49.98 in the 2,000 meters placed it just-behind Germany’s 5:48.75—the results of the London Games were just as meaningful.
“[London and Beijing] were two different stories,” Howard said. “We had a plan and mission in 2008 but here at London was different because we had so many younger guys.”
“Maybe that’s why this feels so hugely emotional and is such a high,” he added. “We put our teeth right into the middle of this race.”
—Staff writer Scott A. Sherman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org