Outside magazine, August 1996
"It's great that everyone will be gunning for us," says Yaz Farooq, coxswain of the U.S. women's eight crew that crushed the field at last year's world championships in Tampere, Finland. "But they better watch out, because we're still peaking." Yes, the American squad in rowing's glamour event has a few distinct advantages. It comes to this summer's Games with last year's world-championship team intact, and it's coached by stone-faced 38-year-old Hartmut Buschbacher, who led the East German crew to gold in 1988.
In previous Olympics, U.S. teams consisted of a bunch of collegiate all-stars cobbled together at the last minute. Not surprisingly, they were consistently thrashed by the East Germans, who won every Olympic contest (except the boycotted 1984 Games) from 1976 through 1988. But Buschbacher has brought his training methods to America, working with his team year-round on Tennessee's Chatanooga River. Now it appears that the U.S. squad's only weakness may be overconfidence: Beyond the gold medal, the team has a shot at breaking the hallowed six-minute barrier in the 3,000-meter race. Look for the Americans to win easily, with Germany holding off the Canadians to take silver.
In the men's eight, things don't look quite so promising. The United States hasn't won gold since "The Girl from Ipanema" broke the Top 40. This crew has enough talent to end that dubious 32-year streak, but the highly disciplined Dutch team has the edge. Unless the home crowd can rev up the United States, the Dutch should eke out a win over the Americans and the Germans in a tight finish.
In singles, 31-year-old Canadian Silken Laumann should have the women's race in the bag, but if oft-injured American Ruth Davidon can stay healthy, she has a shot at stealing the bronze from Trine Hansen of Denmark or Maria Brandin of Sweden. On the men's side, look for a close race between 1995 world champion Iztok Cop of Slovenia and Giovanni Calabrese of Italy, with Calabrese pulling off the upset and Juri Jaanson of Estonia taking third. Alas, the U.S. rowers have little hope for a medal. That said, 24-year-old U.S. trials champion Cyrus Beasley--a welcome beach-bum visage in the land of the preppified--could one day earn gold. After just two years in the sport, Beasley has blown to the top of the U.S. heap, though his best world championship finish is ninth. Finally, in pairs, look for Americans Missy Schwen and Karen Kraft to knock off 1995 world champions Megan Still and Kate Slatter of Australia. In the men's bracket, gold is almost a given for Great Britain's three-time Olympic champion Steven Redgrave and teammate Matthew Pinsent, who have an impressive 52-0 record since 1991.