On Thursday night, after NBC had aired the tape-delayed victory of the gold-medal performance by the dominant United States women's eight rowing team and "The Star-Spangled Banner" hit its soaring conclusion, viewers inevitably had one unavoidable question run (or row) through their heads: Is coxswain Mary Whipple that short or are the rowers on Team USA that tall?
As the coxswain, Whipple sits at the stern of the boat, steers it and serves as part motivator, part coach, part sounding board and part intimidator. She's as important to the team as any rower, if not more. But, like all coxswains, Whipple is more slight than the athletes who row the boat. The reason is simple: Propelling the boat is easier with a smaller person at the lead.
So is she tremendously short or are the rowers really, really tall? It's more of the latter than the former.
Whipple stands 5-3, an inch below the average height of American women. The average height of her teammates is around 6 feet. In the picture above, she happens to be standing next to the tallest member of the team, 6-4 Caryn Davies. We were raised well enough to know not to talk about a woman's weight, but it's not uncouth to say Whipple is almost half the size of her teammates.