With the Opening Ceremony out of the way, it was on with the actual Games and all of that sport business. In the weeks leading up to the start, I’d been assigned swimming as my domain for ten days of the Olympics, having shot the wet stuff a few times before. The Olympic Aquatics Centre provided both positive and negative work experiences. On the plus side, it was built with the Games in mind, so the facilities for media and the available positions were great. On the negative side, the light was a little low, resulting in some scary ISOs at times. Also, the heat just drained you after a while. Thankfully, I just resorted to wearing Speedos under my wanker jacket so everything worked out OK. No. No, I didn’t.
Not being an expert in any way, I had to get my learning head on, as I tried to remember the techniques and best ways to shoot it. That might not sound like much, but there’s no point in shooting freestyle from head on, for example. Morning sessions were used to capture some action pictures of the big hitters, while evening sessions were simply to capture the results and medal ceremonies.
On the subject of freestyle, the 50m races and heats are just the most pointless things to try and shoot, as most of the competitors don’t even take a breath for the whole length. As I tweeted at the time, picking out an individual swimmer during these “splash and dash” sessions is like being asked to take a picture of a particular sock through the door, during a fast spin of your washing machine. It’s certainly challenging.
One of the few downsides of the venue was having to sit on solid wood benches for three hours at a time for two sessions. After discovering that the cheapest camping cushion in Westfield was over £20, my Northern roots kicked in and I looked for a cheaper option. Thankfully, I sorted this by making a seat out of the strangest lunchtime purchase of my life; a pack of maternity bed pads that I then wrapped in AFP-branded tape. I’m the MacGyver of photography.
The big story of the Games as far as H2O went, was Michael Phelps’ race to become the greatest Olympian ever. His career started with a world record at the 2002 Pan Pacific Championships, and the Olympics gave him the opportunity to try for his 19th medal before he officially retired. As it was, Phelps went on to take his tally to 22 medals. The man’s a machine, a rather petulant machine, sulking and frowning at the board if he came anywhere other than first, but a machine nonetheless.
Amid the onslaught of victories, he took the opportunity to break even more records, including winning the 100m Butterfly final for a third consecutive Olympic Games. With those stats, I’ll forgive the strops.
An advantage of having the Nikon D4, over previous Nikon models, really became apparent during the Olympics; a built-in network port. For everyday life, it doesn’t affect work in any way as it’s decidedly rare that I have a convenient direct line where I’m working, but the Games are an exception. Nearly all of the venues had LAN cables installed by the top tech chaps at AFP, so that the photographers didn’t even have to get their laptops out to transmit. Using this system, I just popped a cable into the port, tagged a picture that I wanted to transmit and within a second or two, it was gone. A team of editors waiting in the MPC then carved up the art into choice cuts, whacked a caption on it and released it into the wild within minutes. If only all jobs were like that… As I’ve written before, sending untouched pictures to a team of editors takes some getting used to, but it certainly makes you think about what you transmit before you push the button!
The diving was one of the events that was particularly testing on the cameras. As it was, I only shot two sessions, but the D4s had to be cranked to 6400ISO if there was any hope of freezing the divers as they rotated at break-neck speeds towards the pool. I have no idea how anyone managed at previous games. Shooting this kind of thing on earlier digital cameras would have been nigh on impossible. Hats off to those that did. This kind of situation must have been such a step back when digital was introduced, as the industry went from being able to use high speed films that they could push even further, to having cameras that creaked like the Mary Celeste when you nudged 400ISO. *shudder* It was bad enough that the organisers frowned on me when I set remote flashes all over the diving boards too…
Aside from the ongoing chlorination of my lungs, I got the chance to explore a few other sports too. One of which was a single day at Wimbledon for the finals. The overpowering sense of deja-vu was thankfully diluted by the entirely different nature of the club during the Games from during the Wimbledon Championships. For starters, gone were the subtle dark green colours and clean backgrounds of Wimbledon, and in their place were the garish bright colour-schemes, over-staffed courts, unnecessary chairs and furniture in view and, most disturbingly, music through the PA as the players warmed up. I could almost hear the grinding of the Wimbledon regulars collective teeth, as they saw their hallowed ground transformed, even if it was only temporarily.
My seat for the day was called “Platform B” and those of you who have shot the Championships before will know that shooting from there essentially means that you become “cutaway” fodder. This means every time the camera operator at the far end of the court wants to reframe, gets bored of tennis, fancies doing a “zoom-out” style shot or just wants to embarrass someone, we’re the ones that get the attention. Within a few minutes of the matches starting, the photographers around me were all getting texts from friends and family saying “Ooh, I’ve just seen you on telly!” This can cause amusement for a while until you begin to question what the hell you’ve been absent-mindedly doing. Thankfully, my nasal passages remained unexplored, so I think I managed to survive the day reasonably intact.
In the end, all of this was soon forgotten as Andy Murray went on to win the Men’s Singles Final, giving him the success at Wimbledon that he’d fought so hard for earlier this year. While it’s not the big cup he hoped for, it seemed to give him a modicum of pleasure.
As expected, the Women’s Doubles Final wasn’t quite so shocking with the Williams sisters claiming yet another title. One thing that I noticed at Wimbledon when they won, was that Serena seems to constantly be telling Venus “See? I told you we’d win!” as they prepare to receive their trophy/medal. I find it hard to imagine that Venus is lacking in confidence after all of these years but I guess we all have our weaknesses!
While Sabine Lisicki couldn’t hide her emotions on only taking the silver medal, those on the pitch at another discipline were equally forthcoming with their feelings. Hockey isn’t something I’ve ever shot, thought about or considered, so the two sessions that I covered were a hell of a learning curve. Seriously, I had, and still have, no idea at all about how it works. As far as I could tell, if you won the ball you had to give it back, if you smacked another player in the face with your stick you sat on the naughty step rather than being sent off and the pitch itself was an inch deep in water. I’m guessing that this is to slow the ball down but you could do that by using a different ball. All very odd.
Continuing the outdoor life, it was time to head outside for the finals of the BMX event. Thankfully, after hockey and its unusual rules, it was was good to return to something that is based on everyone racing to a finish line again.
It seems Mr Strombergs was quite happy too when he won the Men’s Final.
Another brief experience was a quick dash outside of London to the venue for the Women’s Cross-Country Mountain Bike Finals. Knowing that it was straight into the finals, I made the decision to set up a couple of remotes to give me options on angles. While it did indeed give me options, it also gave me files. Lots of them. Due to the nature of these longer races, there was never any real way of ensuring you had the winner, so every time the pack rode through my location, I ended up shooting as many of the competitors as possible, in case they ended up going on to win. As this was the finals, sadly it is all about the winners so once I’d filled my cards with billions of images, the only cyclists that the world wanted to see were Gold, Silver and Bronze. That left a HELL of a lot of extra frames to wade through.
There’s only one place that all of that cycling can lead. The Velodrome. SURELY this would be simple, wouldn’t it? Gun goes bang, everyone pegs it around the oval a few times and someone wins, right? Nope. Oh, sport. How I’ll never understand you…
The Velodrome was by far the most impressive venue that I worked in or visited during the Games. The architecture, lighting and facilities were top notch. With track cycling being another discipline that I’d never explored before, I tried to learn my Keirins from my Omniums. Eventually I settled on “The one with the incredible dude on the moped”, “The one where the riders don’t seem that interested in winning for the first bit” and most confusingly “The one where everyone races around but if you get tired you can drop out for a few laps without being penalised”.
Knowing that I wouldn’t be setting foot in the Stadium between the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, I did feel a little out of the loop regarding witnessing bursts of incredible speed, but then Team GB on wheels came along. I know you probably all watched it anyway, but seeing Jason Kenny turn on the speed during the heats was just phenomenal. His acceleration was so strong that he repeatedly left his opponents looking towards their teams with expressions of “Well? What could I have done to beat that?” on their faces as they crossed the line. Absolutely brilliant.
The highlight of the cycling for me came when Cycling team leader Carl de Souza offered me the chance to shoot from the infield. For those of you that haven’t seen velodrome cycling, the teams are all in the central area throughout the session. Rather than being behind closed doors, the workshop areas, athlete seating and waiting areas are all on full view to the spectators, but even better they are pretty much open to the photographers on the track. While it provides shed-loads of pictures, it also means you have to have eyes in the back of your head, as the finish line can be in one of two positions. There was scrambling, and frantic scrambling at that.
One of the big upsets of the cycling was the disqualification of Victoria Pendleton and Jess Varnish. While it was tough on Pendleton to miss out on the chance of taking a medal, the sympathy had to go with Jess Varnish as it was her only event at the Olympics. That must be rather disappointing after four years training.
In happier times, Chris Hoy went on to become our very own Phelps, becoming the most successful Great British Olympian of all time. It was a great thing to experience, especially from so close. Like shooting gigs though, you never really see it as it’s happening, as you’re too busy thinking about what you’re doing and where to move to next. Thankfully, having a capacity crowd screaming the roof off the place helps to remind you that you’re somewhere special.
So there you have it. That was my sport for the Olympic Games. Having shot quite a mixed bag of sports, it’ll be good to see what I get to shoot in 2016. *crosses fingers and bats eyelashes at AFP Photo Chief* Still, at least I’ll be able get away with those Speedos in Rio…
Next up, the divisive beast that was the Closing Ceremony…