In today's Olympic Q&A, we head to the water to talk to NBC's rowing analyst for the London Games, Yasmin Farooq. Yaz competed in the Olympics in 1992 and 1996 and now coaches the Stanford women's rowing program, who she led to a national championship in 2009. She takes us inside what a typical day is like for an Olympic commentator, the experience in London, and what the casual Olympic fan needs to know about rowing at the Games.
Q: You competed at the Games in 1992 & 1996, how does your experience as an athlete help you as an analyst?
A: I still remember what it felt like to sit in the starting blocks at the Olympics, that sense of anticipation, excitement to race, and of course, a few butterflies. I’ll admit, my heart rate still goes up right before the start of each of the races, especially the women’s eight, which was my event. Being live at the Olympics as an analyst (we sit right above the finish line in the media grandstand) literally inserts all of us right back into that electric atmosphere, and I try to convey that to the viewer. I know what those rowers are going through, both from a training and racing standpoint, as well as the Olympic experience. I also coach at Stanford University now, so I’m in touch with sport on a daily basis.
Q: What would you try to communicate about the sport of rowing to someone who may be a more casual Olympic fan?
A: I really do hope that people at home get a sense for the beauty of the sport, along with the passion and commitment that it takes to make boats go so fast and look so easy to row. (The better the rowers, the easier the sport looks!) The competitiveness of Olympic rowing is at an all time high. The races are 2000 meters (a little over a mile), which makes it like a drag race, but with 30-60 foot long boats. There will likely be a number of events with photo finishes that are more akin to swimming, literally hundredths of a second.
There are some fantastic stories this year: the US women’s eight looking to repeat as Olympic champions; Great Britain’s Kath Grainger and Anna Watkins in the women’s double, trying to win GB’s first ever women’s gold medal in rowing, and the undefeated men’s pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray from New Zealand, who literally assault the water with every stroke and may be the fastest men’s pair ever. While rowing at this level takes incredible fitness and many hours of rowing (on water and machines), lifting and cross-training, it is actually a great sport for everyone, and spending even 20 minutes on that lonely rowing ergometer at the gym is one of the best ways to build cardiovascular fitness. It’s also a great way to rehab a back injury.
Q: What are the biggest challenges in preparing for calling an Olympic sport and during the event itself?
A: There is a lot of homework. There are 549 athletes here rowing and every single one of them has been researched in advance of the event. I have research for some athletes that goes back to 1999. I travel to the World Championships every year and call that race, and I also call the three World Cup races each summer. As a coach and former national team member I’ve been around for a while now, so I know a lot of the athletes and coaches, which is great because I can find out how they’re training and talk to them about their race prep. I do a lot of this at the World Championships in person, but also through email when I’m at home.
As a college coach, I’m in constant touch with the sport and how it’s evolving, and that helps, too. At the event, well, it’s an outdoor sport. There’s rain, wind and sun, and a lot of notes and electronic equipment to protect. Rocks make great paperweights, and we’ve gotten creative at times with makeshift materials to protect our broadcast area. NBC Operations actually built us an awesome shelter above our grandstand desk here at Dorney Lake! During the event each day is pretty full. We head to the course at 7:30, set-up and spend the next 3-5 hours calling races, then we do an on-camera Web-pop for nbcolympics.com, then we try to talk to a few athletes if we can, grab a quick lunch, and then it’s back to the hotel to study for the next day’s action. We do try to take a break for dinner each night and explore the local restaurants, but at the end of the Olympics, we’re all typically ready for a vacation.
Q: How much of the Olympics are you able to take in as a fan? What else will you try and take part in outside the booth in London?
A: I typically try to catch one or two events, usually after the rowing competition is over. I had an opportunity to go to beach volleyball in Athens, which was definitely the most festive event I have ever attended, and as a US Olympian I always visit the USA house at least once. I really hope to make it over to Wimbledon since that is such a historic place and I love tennis!
Q: How do the Games in London compare to other Olympic Games?
A: This is my sixth Olympics I’ve had the opportunity to attend, and I’ve truly enjoyed each for different reasons. That said, rowing is a big deal in Great Britain, and the rowing fans here are rabid and knowledgeable. They have packed the grandstands every day and have been beyond gracious—they cheer hard for the home team, but they will clap until the last boat crosses the finish line. I was at Dorney Lake for the World Championships in 2006. The transformation of this course–including the Cable Cam that flies down the center for the entire 2000 meters—is amazing. If you can’t get here as a fan, you’ll still get a spectacular view watching rowing on television.
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