Sept. 17, 2008
SEATTLE - Washington alumni rowers are featured on the cover of the current (October 2008) cover of Rowing News, the magazine of rowing. Mary Whipple and Anna (Mickelson) Cummins both appear in the Olympic gold medal-winning U.S. women's eight, in a bright yellow shell named The Hunter, which is a Washington-owned boat.
Whipple and Cummins, both 2002 graduates of the UW, raced their last regatta together, ending their long career together in style with a gold medal in Beijing. The U.S. women's eight led the final from start to finish, crossing the finish line in 6:05.34, 1.88 seconds faster than the second-place crew from the Netherlands.
The eight's boat, The Hunter, was named after W. Hunter Simpson, the late University of Washington regent and benefactor, and its story is just as interesting as the story of the crew that raced it.
In 1984, when current women's head coach and Director of Rowing Bob Ernst was coaching the U.S. women's crew, he requested a state-of-the-art shell he felt he needed to win Olympic gold. The U.S. Olympic Committee and US Rowing balked at his request, but Ernst persisted. Finally, the parties agreed that if Ernst could raise the money necessary for the new shell, the team could use the boat for training and in the Olympics, but that the University of Washington would actually own the shell. Ernst contacted Simpson, who eagerly donated the money for a new boat.
The Simpson-bought shell that won women's eight gold in 1984 was called Friendship, named by the Simpson family. After its Olympics stint, the boat was given to the University of Washington and was raced for several years along Montlake Cut and across the country, finally being retired in 1990.
In January 2007, Simpson passed away, prompting his family to contact Ernst again, hoping to donate another shell to be used in the 2008 Olympics, in search of another U.S. women's gold medal. Ernst contacted the US Olympic Committee and US Rowing, who accepted the use of the new boat for the women's eight, again under the condition that the boat return to the University of Washington at the conclusion of the Olympic Games.
The shell was purchased by the Simpson family and, in honor of W. Hunter Simpson, named The Hunter. The US women's eight raced the boat in Lucerne, Switzerland, winning gold in the 2008 World Cup, a precursor to their success in Beijing. The Hunter was shipped to Beijing after the race in Lucerne and the US women's eight turned in another gold medal-winning performance, dedicating their race to the 1984 crew that won gold in another Simpson-bought boat.
Once the shell has been inspected by its manufacturer in Germany, The Hunter will make its way to Seattle, where it will be received by the Husky crew, both past and present. A celebration will be held once the boat arrives in Seattle, and the 1984 crew will take to the Cut in Friendship, honoring Simpson's memory and generosity, and the gold medal spirit that thrives at the University of Washington.