Whipple, an Olympic gold medalist, was picked as the network’s rowing analyst and pairs up with UW women’s coach Yasmin Farooq as her researcher.
Working as a sports broadcaster isn’t all that different from coxswaining — both require focus, the ability to analyze each moment of a race and talk through it.
So when it comes to the Olympics, it’s not surprising that NBC handpicks former coxswains for rowing-analyst positions.
This year, NBC selected Mary Whipple, a 2002 University of Washington graduate.
Recently-appointed UW women’s rowing coach Yasmin Farooq, who served in the analyst position for the past four Olympics, will be Whipple’s researcher during the Games.
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Whipple and Farooq are also former U.S. Olympians. When Whipple competed in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games as an athlete, Farooq was in the broadcast booth.
“She would always be around,” Whipple said.
“It was comforting to know that she was calling the shots because we trusted her. When I retired … I didn’t know Yaz’s intentions of continuing or not, but I thought in a perfect world, we’d both be on the broadcast team.”
Whipple’s “perfect world” became a reality a couple of years later, when, after retiring from rowing, she asked NBC for a broadcasting tryout.
Never having called a race before, she called four as part of her interview, receiving feedback from NBC after each race. After one, Whipple was told she was too technical. During another, she was told she took over the play-by-play too much.
Regardless, she was chosen for the job.
“I’m super pumped about the team and feel honored that I can be on it. I’m giddy at the fact that Yaz, who is one of my mentors, can continue that role,” Whipple said.
“The fact that she’s coming as a researcher just speaks to the character of our relationship and our love of sport and rowing. We want to be good representatives of the team and the sport.”
When it came time to pick her researcher, Farooq was an easy choice. As a longtime coach, Farooq knows researching will help that part of her career more than calling races.
She was more than happy to accept Whipple’s offer.
“Getting to do intel and background in some ways is even more fun because I get to go in there and ask questions of all the people who are at the top of their game,” Farooq said.
“Certainly as the coach at Washington, I can’t think of any other people I’d rather talk to.”
That doesn’t mean their jobs won’t be hard work. Whipple said it’s going to be difficult to remain unbiased, and Farooq understands the sentiment. She remembers her own struggle with keeping her emotions in check. It was especially challenging for Farooq when the U.S. won gold in the women’s eight in Beijing in 2008.
Farooq kept it together during the broadcast, but was overflowing with emotion. An Olympic gold was something she had strived for as an athlete her whole career, but somehow it was even better watching the 2008 squad win it.
It’s still her fondest broadcasting memory — and coincidentally, Whipple was in the coxswain’s seat.
Now, the two will be tied together once again. And while they’ve always technically been on the same team, this will be a little bit different.
“It’s a classic example of why rowing is the ultimate team sport,” Whipple said.
“No matter what seat you’re in, you have to make the boat go fast. That’s the perfect analogy with Yaz and me. No matter who’s on the mic and who’s in what role, we’re there to work together and make the best product and best team.”