A Different Kind of Race
|On my fifth day in China, I realized I was experiencing a real-life|
version of the movie The Truman Show. I was one of the thousands of
extras, each of us repeating our steps from the day before – busily hurrying
across the same street each morning, either walking to a venue a couple of
blocks away or trying to catch a bus to a remote locale. Every one had the
same expression on their face – smile and excitement this day early in the
month of August, only to be replaced by looks of fatigue and weariness as
the days wore on.
|I was in Beijing covering the Summer Olympics for BPI (Back Page|
Images), the London based photo agency, recently acquired by Haymarket,
the parent company of LAT (London Art & Technology), the motor sports
photo agency. While LAT concentrates on motor sports for the worldwide
magazine and corporate markets, the younger BPI works on tight daily
deadlines servicing newspapers throughout the United Kingdom.
|Photographing the Olympics is every sports photographer’s dream|
assignment. During my first trip to Beijing three years ago, I decided to set a
goal of photographing these Summer Olympics. I suspected that the Beijing
games would be the biggest and best Olympics in my lifetime. I was correct.
|I arrived in Beijing on the evening of August 3rd. I flew Delta for the|
majority of the flights – 16 hours of flying team from Daytona to Atlanta to
Tokyo, then a 6 hour layover in the Northwest lounge in Narita before 4
additional hours to Beijing. Get the luggage, have my credentials activated at
the airport, equipment list checked and verified by customs, and then take a
bus to my media hotel. The next morning I would start a routine that I
repeated for 23 consecutive days.
|From every way imaginable, the Olympics are the pinnacle of any|
event – sporting or otherwise. The BOCOG (Beijing Organizing for the
Games of the XXIX Olympiad) and the IOC (International Olympic Committee)
put in place a level of logistical organization that is difficult to fathom even in
hindsight. A budget of 43 billion dollars (yes billion) took these Olympics to
a level that no other country will ever exceed. A new international terminal at
the airport, extended subway lines to the main Olympic venues, the Cube –
home of the swimming and diving, and the Bird’s Nest – the National Athletic
Stadium host of the opening an closing ceremonies, track and field, and the
soccer finals – all dazzling in their design and scale. Located next to one
another, the Cube and Bird’s Nest were the gathering places for the citizens
of Beijing posing for family photos in front of both structures every evening;
capturing images of themselves and the symbols of modern day China with
the same enthusiasm western tourists pose at The Great Wall.
|Each day a familiar routine unfolded. A security check took place at|
every media hotel or in the media village – x-ray camera bags, walk through a
scanner, get on the bus for twenty minute bus ride to the MPC (Main Press
Center) or the IBC (International Broadcast Center), assemble gear, either
walk or take a bus to a venue, quickly scout and decide on a shooting
location, wait for history to unfold in front of you, shoot, shoot some more,
edit or hustle to the next venue, history unfolds again, shoot, edit, transmit,
move to next venue, more history, more shooting, more editing, more
transmitting, head back to MPC, edit more, transmit more, answer e-mails,
grab dinner, go to venue, more history, more shooting, more editing, more
transmitting, introduce yourself to the new familiar faces you have seen
throughout the day, exchange stories, go back to MPC, drink tons of water,
edit, transmit, put gear in locker, take 2am bus back to hotel, take shower,
answer email, sleep for 5 hours, wake up and repeat same. A photographer
could cover 2 events a day very well. Three events less so. Four events
meant something was going to suffer, either your shooting or your editing (I
tried to choose editing). Trying to explain this to the bosses 12 time zones
away in London was my only true frustration I experienced in China. Ever try
talking to a brick wall? Been there, done that.
|Hard work? You bet. The first couple of days were the worst. Heat|
and humidity dominated the first week of the Olympics. The evening of the
opening ceremonies was the worst of it. Every photographer was dripping
wet within the first half hour of the 4 hour show. By the end of the evening,
every piece of clothing was soaked, including my Olympic photo vest. This
presented an interesting situation. The vest is part of the photographer’s
credential and you are required to wear it any time you shoot. I learned that
first evening part of “the code” Olympic photographers are expected to follow
– you cannot wash your photo vest during the Olympics. Yes, I am old
school, and yes, I followed “the code.” By the end of three weeks you
understood why the photographers’ press area and the writer press area were
on different floors of the MPC.
|The MPC was the hub for writers and photographers. About 3/4 of a|
city block long, 1/2 city block wide, and three stories tall. Every day began
here and ended here. The top floor was filled with a few IOC offices and
bureaus of all of the major players. USA Today, AP, SI, ESPN, and Getty
Images were among the agencies with offices. Large offices. Getty had over
80 people in Beijing, 40 plus photogs, editors, technicians, assistants, and
so forth. They invested in a fiber optic line system, wiring every single venue
so images could be transmitted back to an editor’s desk at the MPC at the
rate of 1 image per second. Competition of getting an image on line between
agencies was just a fierce as anything in the sports worlds. For the
men’s100m finals, Getty had 14 photographers, plus remote cameras
covering Usain Bolt’s world record sprint. They had images online less than
4 minutes after the race. Staggering.
|The main floor of the MPC was home to the 4,000 plus writers, in a|
pressroom double the size of Le Mans’. Carrying laptops and pushing
keyboards all day takes its toll, so at the far end of their pressroom was a
workout room, a hair salon, and a message area. The balance of the main
floor consisted of a bank, commissary, cell phone rental store, a small café,
and post office.
|The bottom floor was the photographer’s floor. A large open room|
with over 500 desks, Nikon and Canon service and loan areas, Kodak printing
area (free prints and custom made books – who had time for this?!), Sandisk
and Lexur support, plus 4 Apple Aperture experts and a dozen or so 30 inch
Apple monitors and stations with Photoshop, Photo Mechanic and Aperture
software. There were no assigned seats in the photo area, but you never
went without a workspace. A large locker room was equipped with lockers
large enough for two large thinktank bags, plus a laptop bag. Kodak covered
the cost of internet fees in the MPC, and the cost of using wireless at the
other venues was $600.00 for the 3 weeks of the games.
|Every venue had it’s own press center and photo work room.|
Lockers, work stations, a venue photo manager who controlled accessm and
his staff of volunteers. There was a pecking order for access among photo
agencies. Getty,ruled the roost, followed by AP, Reuters, AFP, SI and so
forth. The IOC made sure the agencies which would provide the widest
distribution got the best access or the best spots. This was completely
understandable and, with just a couple of minor exceptions, never caused a
|From a photographer’s perspective a decision had to be made on|
when to follow the pack and essentially get the same shot as 300 other
shooters or gamble and try and get something unique. It was a difficult call,
especially at a venue like track and field, where shooters collected just
beyond the finish line for the “jub”(jubilation) reaction shot. Perhaps my best
shot of the Games was when I gambled to the men’s 200m finals and
climbed to the very top of the stadium and shot straight down the front
straight as Usain Bolt ran through the Olympic rings on his way to victory.
Only myself and Leo Mason, the outstanding British photographer), chose
this location and we both agreed afterward that we made the correct call.
|The greatest part of the Olympics was the wide variety sports and|
world class athletes and the ability to cover them with relative ease. I could
photograph Michael Phelps in the morning, walk across the street and shoot
gymnastic competition, walk across the next street and cover fencing, then
walk 6 minutes to the Bird’s Nest and shoot track and field.
|Some sports – fencing, field hockey, whitewater canoeing, and|
gymnastics were great to shoot, others like team handball and air rifle, less
|Best of all the Olympics provided an opportunity to work shoulder to|
shoulder with the best sports photographers in the world. Every day images
were produced that left each of us in awe, humbled, inspired, and motivated.
I ran into old friends that I had not seen in years like SI’s Al Tielemans, and
Pascal Rondeau from L’Equipe; and made new friends like Kari Kuukka from
Finland (http://www.karikuukka.com) and finally met David Burnett from
Contact Press Images. David was a huge influence during the early days of
my career. (David and his wife have a wonderful blog that covers everything
under the sun…check it out at: http://werejustsayin.blogspot.com).
|Just like The Truman Show, every aspect of this grand stage was|
well planned and executed. The opening ceremonies were simply stunning.
2008 drummers pounding in unison, the pageantry of the Chinese military
honor guard goose stepping with the Olympic flag, and the lighting of the
Olympic flame are memories of a lifetime. Security and transportation
systems that were efficient, flawless and ran on time (in 3 weeks I
experienced one bus was 10 minutes late), 100,000 Chinese volunteers that
were well trained not only in their English but more importantly, in their
responsibilities, attention to the smallest details, and for journalists –
knowing that the organizers want you to produce the highest level of work
possible and have gone to extremes to make sure working conditions and the
|The star of this show was also the director of this show. The Beijing|
Summer Olympics were a coming out part for China. This was their
opportunity to showcase to the world their ability to undertake the most
difficult of tasks. They exceeded all expectations. In doing so, the outside
world now has a better understand of the capabilities of this once closed
country and the opportunities that lay within. For China, its people and its
government, the Olympics have opened the door to the outside world a bit
wider, providing not a glimpse, but a clearer view of a world of possibilities.
The motto of the Beijing Summer Olympics – “One World One Dream” should
now be altered for the people of China to – “One World My Dream.” They
have experienced the world outside of the protective bubble and there will be
no looking back.
|If you are interested in seeing my selects from the Beijing Summer|
Olympics, please go to this link: http://gallery.me.com/richarddole#100208.