LONDON — Modesto's Erin Cafaro struck gold this morning.
Her USA women's eight rowing team pulled out to an early lead then held off Canada for victory at the Summer Olympics in London.
It was the second straight Olympic gold medal for Cafaro and the women's eight team, which won in Beijing four years ago.
"That is an American dynasty, baby," said U.S. crewmember Susan Francia, who was close to tears as she collected her medal on the pontoon at Dorney Lake. "It's just so special."
Cafaro became the first Modestan to earn two Olympic gold medals.
When she won a gold in Beijing in 2008, the 29-year-old Modesto High graduate joined local Olympic champions Wilbur "Moose" Thompson (shot put, 1948), Cy Young (javelin, 1952) and Tisha Venturini-Hoch (soccer, 1996) as Modesto gold medal winners.
Entering this morning's race at Dorney Lake, the Americans faced a major challenge from Canada.
Canada had logged the best time in Sunday's preliminary races.
But the Americans got out fast in a race that began at 4:30 a.m. PDT. They led by the length of a half a boat halfway through the race and increased it to a near boat-length with 500 of the final 2,000 meters to go.
Canada came on strong, closing the lead to about half a boat. But in the end, it wasn't enough.
The U.S. won in a time of 6 minutes, 10.59 seconds. The Netherlands took bronze.
Cafaro, Francia Mary Whipple (coxswain), Caryn Davies, Caroline Lind, Eleanor Logan, Meghan Musnicki, Taylor Ritzel and Esther Lofgren threw their arms up after crossing the line, screaming in delight.
Some leaned back into their teammates' lap.
"The last few hundred (meters) was a little rough, but we just sold it and did what we had to do," said Whipple, who is set to retire. "There were a couple of little rough spots here and there. But I am in awe of my teammates and what they can endure and what they can handle. They are so committed and I am so proud to be their teammate."
The U.S. hasn't lost a competitive race in the eight since winning the world title here in 2006 and they never looked likely to lose here.
"Coming off the line, I felt so much," Whipple said. "And then when we took our stride, that was beautiful.
"We were a little high and I just told them to breathe and enjoy the moment. Feel each stroke. Be present. And we were present - the whole time."
On the podium to accept the gold medal, Cafaro and her teammates were all smiles.
Cafaro was the first of the Americans to have the medal placed over her head. She then joined her teammates with hands over hearts for the playing of the national anthem, a scene similar to that in Beijing.
Following the anthem, the team hung out, posing for photos with other medalists.
They then mugged for cameras with an American flag, sealing the victorious day with a kiss of their new gold prizes.
"It was magical," Whipple said
Her Olympics finished, Cafaro said she will hang around in London for the remainder of the Games and enjoy the closing ceremony.
We'll have more on this breaking story later this morning.