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When Silver is Gold: 10 Years Since 2004 Olympic Silver for USA Women's Eight

W8+ Womens Eight Athens Olympics

By Anna Cummins, manager of Cummins Chiropractic and Wellness

Bellevue – When is silver ever golden?  10 years ago today I was fortunate to be a part of the US Women’s eight that won the first medal for the US women in 20 years in the eight oared shell. As teammate Kate Johnson, bow, said, “We laid a foundation that has led to complete dominance in the US women’s 8+. This would be the last silver and yet the most important silver the US women would ever win.” 

For me, the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens brought a win for the US and motivation for myself to keep on for another 4 years, where in Bejing, China in 2008, we won the gold.  I have done multiple talks around the community on the small changes that lead from silver to gold, but today, I’d like to focus on when silver is gold. 

In 1984, the US Women won gold at the LA Olympics on the 1,000 meter (the women’s Olympic Rowing Distance at the time) on Lake Casitas.  They came from behind to defeat Romania who had won the other five events of the day. Since then, the US women have always been strong and at times been favorites to medal in the Olympics.  For various reasons, medals would not return home to the US and by 2004, 20 years of medal absence of any color, we wanted to change that.  Our first goal was to make the final.  Then, to get in medal contention.  Then, to change the color of that medal.  Of course, the gold would be our ultimate goal.

After a disappointing 2000 Olympic Games, almost the entire field of women on the team moved on, making way for young ones like myself who as a junior at the University of Washington with teammates Mary Whipple and Heidi Hurn, we earned spots in the US Women’s eight in 2001.  With a 4th place surprise finish in ’01, a smoking win in ’02, a boat stopping crab in ’03 where we placed 5th (qualifying the boat for the Olympics), we were ready for whatever came our way by 2004. Many in the media had picked us to for sure medal, but we had already personally experienced going from medal contention to off the podium with a off race in ’03, so we knew to not count our medals before they were around our necks.  Our stroke and 6-seat were Olympic veterans, thank goodness.  Stroke Lianne Nelson was on a mission and she was driving us home.  As the mother of a 2 year old beautiful baby girl (now a mom to 3!), she was all business and had everything on the line.  Laurel at 6-seat kept us steady with her quiet leadership and unyielding focus.  The rest of us Olympic virgins were dazzled by the specialness of all that is the Olympic Games, but also so young and naïve to think that anyone else had a better shot at this than we did.

The 2004 W8+ Grand Final was a barn burner.  I remember it being almost 100 degrees and under the late afternoon Athens sun, I was hot and incredibly nervous.  Usually during a race warm-up, the routine brings me to my race place and I slip into “Race Anna” and the nerves settle into positive energy.  This time, because it was my first Olympics, the nerves continued and the abundant energy from a week of tapering came leaping out of my body.  I was happy the race would start to take the edge off and pushing off the line, the power for every stroke pushed us into the front.  Off the start and through the first 1,000 meters, the race was incredibly tight.  We had bested the reigning Olympic champions, Romania, in the heat on our way to a world’s best time (in a screaming and messy tail wind), but we knew the final would be no walk in the park.  We had edged out a lead, but Romania started their move.  With 500 meters to go, Romania continued to stretch out for the line in first and the Netherlands were sprinting for their lives to steal our silver.  With excellent coaching from our coxswain, Mary Whipple, she kept us going for the gold and pulling off the silver.  The first words out of my mouth after the line were to Whipple, “What did we get?”  I had no idea that we had pulled it off as I felt the line could not have come soon enough.  My legs were complete mush and I had given everything and beyond.

When I first would watch highlights of the race, I would only see that Romania was ahead and the Netherlands almost caught us.  That my oar was skying and not going straight in the water.  That if I had only been more proficient in my technique I could have applied more efficient power.  That maybe we could have done more.

Now, I see that it was where I was at that point in time for my rowing and that it was an incredible race. That my power helped drive us to get that far and that we did set a world’s best time. I see that we helped lay a foundation for the US Women to stand on as we learned to increase our power, our efficiency, our small boat skills, and our experience on the world rowing stage.  Hindsight, I see more clearly and can appreciate the struggles and the wins as time passes.  I see that we chose to grow.

Was I happy for the silver? At the time, yes.  And now ten years later? Definitely yes.  Knowing that our team had made such incredible headway from 2001 to 2004, we truly laid a base that to this day is a speed machine.  It came with incredible direction from our coach, Tom Terhaar, drive from each teammate and athlete that competed in the camp to produce our eight, and support from every single mom/dad/husband/sister/brother and friend of the members of our squad.  Looking back on this accomplishment I am incredibly proud of the women I had the honor to compete with.  They have each continued on to be beautiful in their relationships, businesses and faiths.

I hope my reflections help others see that something they have in their lives right now that appears to be silver, will with time reveal itself to be a golden moment.  A moment that helped you to grow.  At my office, we see patients who are choosing each day to go for gold medal health.  They are choosing to work with us as a team and bring them back to their best health and hopefully pushing to take their silver to gold.  Here’s to ten more years of silver and gold.

Thanks to my teammates in the 2004 US Women’s Eight who continue to inspire me each day: Mary (Whipple) Murray, Lianne Nelson, Caryn Davies, Laurel Korholtz, Ali Cox Verrisimo, Megan (Dirkmaat) McCourt, Sam (Magee) Bowerman, Kate Johnson, and coach Tom Terhaar with his wife and our teammate Jen Dorey Terhaar.

To see a highlight video of the Athens US Women’s 8+ Silver medal performance, click here: USA Women’s 8+ 2004 Olympic Final or for the full race, click here: Full race, W8+ Womens Eight Athens Olympics

Anyone wishing more information from Dr. Cummins regarding how gold medal health may contact Dr. Cummins, whose office is located at 4122 Factoria Blvd. SE, Suite 202, Bellevue, WA by telephone 425-590-9158.

Cummins Chiropractic and Wellness provides a natural and drug free solution to help neck pain, back pain, headaches and injuries from car accidents through chiropracticmassagedecompressioncold laserauto injury recovery, and creating wellness services for those seeking gold medal health in and around Bellevue, Seattle, Renton, Factoria, Issaquah and Newcastle.