Hi and welcome to this edition of Workshop at the Ranch (WATR.) Photographing sports and athletes for a career brings to mind many memories. I have had the good blessing to cover 12 Olympic Games … 6 Summer and 6 Winter. This month’s WATR features some of my favorite images and memories from the Winter Olympic Games.
Calgary, Canada 1988: Mount Nakiska was the Alpine Skiing venue for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This would be my first of six Winter Olympics … and possibly the last Olympics of this Olympian judging from sever twist in the knee.
What’s unusual about this image is that I used a NIKKOR 135mm f2.0 lens, and that this is a full frame image on slide transparency film … No Crop. I was forced to hop out of the way to avoid being wrapped up in the oncoming off-course action, thus earning myself a few seconds of TV time on ABC’s Olympic coverage.
Albertville, France 1992: SPORTS coverage including the Olympic Games for Newsweek Magazine opened many avenues internationally for me. The magazine’s readership was focusing on Ladies Figure Skating featuring Midori Ito of Japan and America’s favorite to win, Kristie Yamaguchi.
I used a rare piece of equipment to capture the dimly lit indoor venues of these Winter Games in France … a NIKKOR 300mm f2.0 lens. This exotic piece of equipment gave me a full 1 stop advantage and the best possible slide transparency film quality over the majority of my colleagues in the media.
Yamaguchi won the GOLD, beating Midori Ito and an up-and-coming skater Nancy Kerrigan of the USA, who would be involved in the next Winter Games in Norway.
Lillehammer, Norway 1994: While Nancy and Tanya were a prime-time soap opera at Figure Skating, Bonnie Blair dominated her sport of Speed Skating. Yet, with all this going on each day I chose this Pan-Action image of the Men’s Ski Jumping final as my favorite picture from the 1994 Winter Games.
During the film era there was no opportunity to instantly see the image as we enjoy in today’s Digital era. I would pan with each competitor and fire off 3 frames as they flew by me at 85 mph. It was difficult to pan that fast with a Nikon 600mm f4.0 lens, but I had my timing down to a science by the time the GOLD, Silver, and Bronze medal winners soared by.
Nagano, Japan 1998: As is often the case the Ladies Figure Skating final Free Skate was standing room only. Many thought that the reigning National Champion from the USA, Michelle Kwan, would take home the GOLD, but that was not the case.
With precision and difficulty Tara Lipinski topped the leader board and ushered in a new era of the sport that stated “jumps” are the new norm.
At the conclusion of Lipinski’s flawless Free program she did a little twirl and kicked her leg in a display of sheer joy knowing that she was the 1998 GOLD medalist.
Salt Lake City, USA 2002: The 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City were the BEST Winter Games I had ever covered. My responsibilities for Newsweek Magazine included: Speed Skating, Figure Skating, Alpine Skiing, Ski Jumping, Ice Hockey, Curling and Freestyle Skiing. The most important change was that Digital Photography was now an accepted media.
In 2002 the finest DSLR camera on the planet was the Nikon D1x with 3fps and 5.27 megapixels … but that was not all I had in my camera bag. TV coverage of the Olympics had become far more intrusive for the still photographers to work around … and so I took some extreme measures to insure that I had good positions for each venue.
Chips Ahoy Cookies became my “currency” when it came to improving my photographic vantage point. TV camera men are usually stuck on the mountain in their camera position all day long during the Skiing competitions, thus they were usually very hungry. I would offer up Chips Ahoy cookies and the promise that I would not move or stand up during the event.
This strategy paid off with some terrific unobstructed views of the finals, including “BIG AIR” Johnny Mosely of the USA performing the “Dinner Role” in Freestyle Moguls.
Torino, Italy 2006: Apolo Ohno of the USA arrived at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino with a GOLD medal victory in Short Track Speed Skating on his mind. South Korean Short Track Speed Skaters Ahn Hyun Soo and Lee Ho-Suk had the same idea.
Apolo had a slight “trip-up” with the South Koreans in the 1500m, and was nearly “jammed out” by them again in the 1000m but finished with a Bronze. Time was running out for Ohno to capture a GOLD medal as the South Koreans seemed to be in control of the Short Track Ice Hall at Salt Lake City’s famed Ice Palace.
The 500m GOLD medal final seemed to end before it began with 2 false starts. The third start saw Ohno take an immediate lead as the pack finally broke away from the starting line … and the sprint to the finish seemed to come so suddenly that the crowd barely had time to catch their breath before Ohno had beaten all challengers to the finish line.
Newsweek was on a rush deadline and so I grabbed my gear and cut across the Zamboni entrance before I would be trapped in the rink side photo area. I ran up the arena stairs as the marching music began for the Medal Ceremony.
As I ran from the Olympic Ice Hall to the Media Center I saw my best friend and photographer from the Colorado Springs Gazette Mark Reis running in. As we crossed paths on the run he shouted, “Is it over?” … “No”, I answered, Apolo is about to get his GOLD medal !” Mark shouted back, “I mean are the Olympics over for you?” “Yes” I said…”and I’m okay with it.” Mark knew what only my closest friends and family knew.
This final race and GOLD medal victory for Apolo Ohno would be my last Olympic Games. I had made a decision two years earlier following the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece … it was time for me to move forward.
I felt God was leading me to new challenges with my photography. Professional and Olympic Sports would remain my subjects, but this time in the Commercial market place rather than editorial magazines. This was a bold move which was completely based on my faith.
“I’ve never looked back to wonder what if…I have only looked forward to where I believe God was directing me.”
Well, I hope you have enjoyed this little slice of Winter Olympic Memories. I look forward to seeing all of you next month here on Workshop at the Ranch.