February 23, 2010

Today was my fifth trip up to Whistler… after at 2 1/2 hours of sleep, 3 1/2 hours (you know the drill) of travel time Don and I were at the finish line.  Since I’d done this trip a bunch of times I had it timed so that we walked up about 10 minutes before the race started.  We went up to mostly for Bode Miller skiing in the Men’s Giant Slalom (a two run event, first run at 9:30 second starting at 1), Miller had won the super combined a couple of days before so it’d be a big deal if he medaled again.

Today was one of those days that literally nothing of importance was happening in Vancouver in the morning, just some rounds of curling… so I could have slept in and done nothing or done laundry or whatever… but I knew our columnist Mark Purdy was going to Whistler and Elliott was heading to ice skating in Vancouver in the evening so I figured I could make it work.  I actually dropped off laundry at the front desk the day before, it’s kinda expensive, like $5 per tee shirt, but I figure would they rather have me shoot an event or take half a day to do laundry?

I stood right up next to the finish line shooting next to Wally from the LA Times.  There were very few photographers there… I think we were the only two US papers there (that I saw at our position).

The only other American who had a chance was Ted Ligety, he went seventh and ended up finishing his first run in eighth, well in contention.  Miller was 31st, unfortunately he flamed out at towards the bottom, though we couldn’t see what happened from our position and we couldn’t see the television screen.  I was a little stressed-out cause we had gone all the way up there to shoot Miller and not even seen him.  But I figured what goes up must come down at some point right?  So after few more racers came down I started to wonder if he had skied off the course somewhere.  I just had to keep looking for his #31 bib… he finally made an appearance.  He chatted with a course worker for about five minutes and then skied off the course.  Not terribly exciting, but it was news worthy and at least I had something of him.

I would have bailed and headed back to Vancouver but Ligety was certainly in contention to medal, so Don and I headed back to the media center and hung-out for an hour or so, had some bad chili (it was good once).  We headed back out to the course, I went to the same place but Don left earlier to stalk out a different spot.  Ligety went but didn’t do much, I shot about 10 more skiers, waited for the last US guy who I knew wouldn’t do anything but figured I’d get some filers of him and then bailed.

Grabbed the shuttle back to Whistler Creekside and right as we pulled in (about 2:15) the second shuttle back to Whistler took off… ugh… so the nice bus-person said that the next bus was in 30 minutes, at 2:45 but I wanted to make sure that I caught the 3 pm bus to Vancouver.  So she said I could grab a public bus down the street.  I was a little unsure cause I didn’t want to get lost, but I chased after some dude who was doing the same thing.  We got on different buses but I had my handy gps on my phone and was able to figure out where I was.  I was dropped off in Whistler around 2:35, plenty of time to grab a slice of pizza and head to the bus.  Don made the same bus for our 2 hours 15 minuteish trip back to Vancouver.

We headed back to the MPC, went quickly to our lockers – swapped stuff out.  I went over and got ticket for tomorrows game Canada/Russia game from the USOC’s Bill Hancock (nice guy who takes care of ticketing for all newspapers and wire services).  I got A section – up top, I know pretty safe/weak to shoot up top but when there are four players on Canada and one on Russia I feel like I need to be able to see all of the ice and it just sucks that you can’t see the whole rink from any lower spots.

We headed back down under the MPC to catch the bus to the Pacific Coliseum to make it over to ice skating for the short program… we caught the 6:00 pm bus.  Ice skating started at 4:30 but we knew that the best skaters went in the last group.  So by the time we got in and through security there was about 20 minutes before the last two groups went.

Don and I headed over to the A section, basically right in the middle of the rink, it wasn’t too busy and sat down next to a well rested Kevin Sullivan – actually he had shot some stuff during the day – a story he was working on about Scott Niedermeyer.

The position is a pretty scary one as not only are there photographers in front of you but also fans, the fans are the scary ones because if they decide that the skater deserves a standing ovation then we’re hosed.  As it is we have to bob and weave around the heads in front of us to even be able to see the rink.  There were quite a few spots on the rink I couldn’t see at all because of head-blockage.

So the Korean lady was obviously the best, we had a decent US person but most everyone was focused on the Canadian, Joannie Rochette, who’s Mom had died several days before.

The last skater, a Japanese skater, finished about 9, I had warned the desk that I wouldn’t be able to get them anything til around 9:30 (they usually like to see stuff around 8:45)… transmitted and grabbed the 10:30 pm bus out of there.  After getting back to the MPC we dropped some stuff off and we all headed over to the Lions Pub – a nice pub about a 1/2 block from the MPC.  Had some dinner and then headed back to hotel.  Back around 1ish and bed around 2ish…


Yes I know

February 22, 2010

Ok, I realize the Olympics are over and I’m missing six days… I’m working on it… for some reason this Winter Olympics gave me the beat-down more than the Summer.  Everyone told me the Winter Olympics are a lot less difficult.  I would agree if I had just stayed in Whistler or had just stayed in Vancouver but unfortunately I made six trips up to Whistler and those were nearly 8 hours of travel time each day!  Anyway, I will get ‘er done, I have everything written down, just need to do it…

Oh and something I just figured out, if you click on any of the pictures you can view them much larger!


February 22, 2010

Yea that’s Elliott Almond, left, talking with Mark Purdy in a short sleeve shirt at the Aberdeen stop for the Canada Line light rail… we’re sure this is the “Winter” Olympics right? The weather has been downright pleasant, only the first few days were overcast and rainy but then the last few have been super nice, clear and sunny.

Purdy wanted to interview Dany Heatly (one of our Sharks players on the Canadian team) and Heatly was doing a presser for a helmet manufacturer at a bar downtown.  We headed down there at 9:30.  It was kinda weird, they basically had the players just come in and talk about the helmet.  I heard at one point some guy say, “make sure they talk about the helmet and nothing else, you gotta be on these guy like dogs.”  nice.

Apparently talking to the players is pretty difficult, after the games there is a “mix zone” where the athletes walk through a coral typed area and talk to reporters/tv, if they want too.  IF is the big word there.  Many just breeze on through, and if the reporter is lucky enough to stop one it’s super rare (unless someone else stops another player) that they’ll be able to talk to another player.

Afterwards Purdy walked downtown and I walked over to the Millennium/King line and took it one stop to Canada Hockey Place.  Shot USA vs Finland for women’s hockey.  This was the first time I ever shot Women’s hockey, apparently it is against the rules to check anyone into the boards like the men do (or something like that).  I think that’s a bummer, because of that the game is a lot less physical.

Afterwards Kevin and I went and grabbed a Fat Burger and then grabbed a cab over.  there are a lot of cab drivers in Vancouver right now that aren’t from here, they just know that there is a huge demand for cabs.  So our guy wasn’t too familiar with Vancouver and dropped us off a couple of blocks away.

Elliott was nice enough to pick me up a ticket for ice dancing yesterday and it was a good one, ice level which is great.  This is the first time I ever shot ice skating.  The spot was pretty good.  Although the backgrounds weren’t too pretty.  I didn’t really know what lens to use, many photographers were using 400’s but it seemed a bit tight, so I used a 70-200mm with a 1.4 converter, it was loose when they were far away but seemed just right when they were close.  Heck I still don’t know what a good ice dancing picture looks like?

Smiley was on my left and some Russian dude was on my right, unfortunately they were both hacking up lungs so it’ll be a miracle if I don’t get sick at some point.

Ice dancing is kinda weird, I guess it’s basically like figure skating pairs but you can’t throw the other person around.  The Canadians won so the coliseum went nuts, super loud.

Oddly enough, this is my seventh or eighth day at the Olympics and despite being at a bunch of events were medals were decided, this was my first medal ceremony… normally all they have is a “flower ceremony” in which the athletes stand on a podium and are given a bunch of flowers.

The medal ceremony is (normally) done at a later time in a different location – they basically made it an event, with concert and stuff.  In Vancouver it’s BC Place and in Whistler it’s in the village somewhere.  This is good and bad.  With the medals there’s always a chance at a decent picture, but then again, it’s painfully slow.  This was also the first time I had to listen to a National Anthem… that is awesome!  In Greece and China, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I could swear they played their anthem before every event, that became painful!  For some reason they had the medal ceremony at Pacific Coliseum.

Afterwards headed back to the MPC and ran into Don at the lockers (ha sounds so high school) apparently he had to catch a super early bus to go Whistler this morning, I told him what I was doing tomorrow – Whistler – and he said he wanted to head up there again (I know back-to-back trips are brutal up there) – I offered my hotel room so that he wouldn’t have to drive back to his cousins house (about 30 minutes from where he parked).  He looked super tired cause he crashed in the mpc the last night.

Take it Easy?

February 21, 2010

One would think that if you were told you had couple of hockey games to cover you’d consider that an “easy” day right?

Unfortunately it was the USA versus Canada game, so I got there six hours before the game was to start, and guess what, I was late, a lot of people showed up eight hours ahead of time!

Gerry McCarthy from the Dallas Morning News was one of those photographers who got there around 8:30 so that he could put up a remote.  He had marked a spot in section A – which is right above the media seats… but he was in B so he was nice enough to give me his spot.  The B spot is directly above me, the first row of the seats on the upper level.

Spot A is partially blocked there is some tv station guy who is on a tall stool and so the spot is a little scary.  I like shooting ice level the most, but it is definitely harder and it’s doubly harder because there are no holes cut in the glass so you are shooting through the glass.  If the players muck-up against the glass they can sometimes leave smudges which makes the images kinda blurry.  The glass isn’t super clear either so even though you can see the other side of the rink in some spots, you can’t shoot the other side because it won’t be sharp.

I shot the first game, Russia against the Czech Republic – mainly because Russia’s goalie is our Sharks goalie.  That game was pretty good, pretty close.

The USA/Canada game was crazy.  It was a lot of fun to cover… It had a very playoff-like atmosphere.  Shockingly Canada did not win, there are so many superstars on Canada’s team i didn’t think it was possible for them to loose.

It’s a big game for us because we had five “local” Sharks players in the game, four on Canada’s team and one on the USA team.  Unfortunately the only one to do anything was Heatly, he had a goal for the Canadian team, but since they lost it wasn’t that big of a deal.

I shot the first period of the Sweden Finland game because, yes, of course, another Sharks player was on one of the teams – Sweden, he’s a defenseman.  Didn’t see a lot of ice time though.  Had lunch with John twice during the two breaks, Chicken shwarma and Teriyaki bowl, both were OK, but at least there is some decent food choices… and literally right outside of the venue is Costco where they have pizza and other food products.

Afterwards I needed to head to the olympic flame to shoot it, so Robert Gauthier and I walked down there… we parted ways and I headed home… for the shortest day so far – 14 hours.

Back 2 Back

February 20, 2010

Ground hog day!

Up at 5:30, caught the 6:06 light rail to downtown Vancouver, off the light rail at about 6:35, headed to my locker to get my long glass and cold weather gear, stopped at McDonald’s and got a nice yogurt for the trip up and got on the bus about 6:45.  Bus left at 7.  Paul was already on it.

I went super light as I didn’t want to have to store or unpack much, so I brought my Think Tank Photo Shape Shifter and StreetWalker Pro which I put my 500mm f4 and two bodies into.

Headed up for the Ladies Super-G to see if Vonn could get another medal, went directly to the finish line after our shuttle with Paul ran into John Leyba, Trent, Wally.  Most of us were doing the same thing – trying to make it back for speed track.  Alpine is set-up kinda weird, so apparently the first 20 or so skiers are the ones that have a shot at winning, whereas the final 30 have pretty much zero chance at ever winning… so I’m not quite sure why they have those other skiers even race, just to make the event longer I guess.  But even the announcer said something like “no one else has a chance now, they’ll be lucky to break into the top ten.”  Each run lasted about a minute and a half.

We just crossed our fingers that no one would get injured, this was not because we were being kind this was because we didn’t want the delay.  There was an injury the other day and the skier had to be helicoptered out, which forced a 30+ minute break.

We lucked out, there were quite a few wrecks and a bunch of skiers who went off course, but nothing that had delays.  Vonn is fun to photograph because she at least shows emotion, she had a good run and screamed at the end of the run.  Unfortunately her run didn’t hold up but she still managed to hold onto a bronze.

John, Paul and I (and a bunch of other people) had decided to leave right after the 23 person, who was american, and skip the flower ceremony.  Two shuttles and then a bus ride down to Vancouver.   We grabbed some pizza in Whistler.  When we got back to the MPC I had to grab a ticket for the Canada vs. USA hockey game the next day.

We were able to grab the 2:30 bus and got to the Pacific Coliseum at 3, some people had been there since before 11 for ice spots.  Races didn’t start until 5:45…  John was super nice enough to save me a spot – which ended up working perfectly.  But before the race, several hours beforehand I wanted to do a panorama on ice level, but I didn’t know it was a huge production to get down there and was not allowed to go see the ice even several hours ahead of time.  Security has been very inflexible.  oh well, here is the pano:


The shooting positions were okay, very little space to move around, packed in like sardines… I was getting claustrophobic.  The final race started at 8:10, everyone was there because Ohno, if he won a medal would become the most decorated US Winter athlete ever.

It was my first time shooting speed skating, wacky, crazy sport, amazing anyone can win consistently.  He won seventh medal, and we were super lucky because the spot John had saved for me turned out to be a good one – of the four turns our turn, #2, is the only one he flashed the number seven too.  I was originally at turn #1 but he talked me into moving.  John was on my left and Paul was on my right.

Today was a bad day for security, got hit three times.  It’s been pretty good for the most part, they do random checks, some days I won’t have to be x-rayed at all, then today was annoying when I got checked three times.  And the third was super annoying because even though I went through the medal detector just fine, the security lady still wanded me.  oh well.

There were so many people in the city today it was totally ridiculous.  The corner above is right near the MPC where the light rail lets out… taken on the bus on the way to speed skating.  There was an equally huge line to get onto the light rail after we were done at the Pacific Coliseum.  So a couple of us went to dinner, Smiley, Paul, Kevin, Robert and I hit that Olympia restaurant (the same one we went to a couple of days ago).  I got the lasagnas again, it wasn’t as good as last time, but it was still good.

At dinner we talked about who was usually at the Olympics but not this one and the good old days in general.  Paul and I decided to cab it back because we weren’t about to wait 30-45 minutes just to get on a light rail.  I’m actually a little bit peeved that even though we are in an official Olympics hotel, there is no shuttle service to the MPC (except between 1:30 am – 4:30 am when the light rail stops running), so we have to take light rail, or a $40 cab ride.  Sometimes the light rail is super packed.  We opted for the $40 cap ride tonight.  Super long day, back to the room around 1:30 so including dinner it was another 20 hour day.

Whistler #3

February 19, 2010

Headed up to Whistler today so I had to get up at 5:30 – caught the 6:06 light rail to downtown Vancouver, off the light rail at about 6:35, headed to my locker to get my long glass and cold weather gear, stopped at McDonald’s and got a nice yogurt for the trip up and got on the bus about 6:45.  Bus left at 7.

Rode with Elliott, the bus was packed, and it was nice and quite except for the two French people talking super loud directly behind us.  Luckily I had my iPod but poor Elliott didn’t and was kept awake by the rude yappers.

The bus nicely dropped us off at Whistler Creekside (instead of going to Whistler, so that saves us one shuttle ride).  Grabbed the shuttle up to the finish line.  Saw a bunch of Vancouver people up there like Gerry (Dallas Morning News), Smiley (Houston Chron), and met Trent Nelson (Salt Lake), another MediaNews paper… and Wally (LA Times) was there of course.

Went to downhill super-G to photograph Bode Miller.  Miller is surprisingly really tame, after hearing all those stories about how he was a partier I thought he’d also be a showboater, unfortunately he is not so the pictures of him after he finished the race were quite boring.  He ended with a good time and a silver medal and merely smirked.  oh well.

I had originally left all of my stuff in the media tent, but once there was a break because of an injured skier I decided to go and grab my Think Tank roller and backpack so that I could go directly to the shuttle after the flower ceremony.

Went “straight” to skeleton at the Whistler Sliding Centre with Gerry.  Two shuttles back to Whistler and two more up to the Sliding Centre.  Neither of the reporters were doing anything on skeleton but I figured I’d check it out and give the paper a feature picture since I was already up there.  Unfortunately the light was not good, really flat, I thought about shooting the finish line but there were a gillion people there.

After the Women went I was thinking about staying for the Men but after chatting with Smiley and we agreed it wasn’t worth sticking around – 1)  Paper didn’t care too much about it  2)  that race was really late.

We had been talking about Saturday and Sunday both being good days to cover skiing events at Whistler, but originally I said I’d just go up one of those too days cause it’s such a pain, but on the way home I was thinking that tomorrow was super light, the only thing to really do in the city was short track speed skating… so I could either sleep in or I could go back to whistler.  I figured that I’m going to get plenty of sleep when i get back to the States so I’d head up to see if Vonn would win another medal.

Ran into Paul and he decided he wanted to do the same thing.

Got back to the room around 12 had room service… bed around 2…

Hockey Halfpipe

February 18, 2010

I got a full six hours of sleep last night, so I am nice and rested.  I had hockey at noon, USA vs. Norway.  I didn’t show up until about 11:30 – left my hotel at 10:00.  Canada played Norway a couple of days ago and beat them 8-0, USA won 6-1.

I go there a bit late, but it was pretty empty and I got to go to the spot I like the best, if you’re looking at the benches then it’d be the right corner, very close to the spot that we have when we cover the San Jose Sharks.

I’ve been taking the light rail there – the Millennium line (the yellow line above), it’s only three stops from the MPC to the stadium, so it’s super fast, way faster than taking the bus.  The nice thing is that a train shows up literally every couple of minutes whereas the bus leaves every 30 minutes.

After the game I took the bus back and talked with Bill Hancock – ticketing guy – some events photographers and reporters have to have tickets, for instance the super popular ones, like USA vs. Canada hockey needs tickets, Short Track needs tickets.  Typically preference goes to those photographers who have reporters who are also covering the events (or something like that).  I signed up for the USA vs. Canada Hockey game, which doesn’t happen for several days but I know for a fact that we are going to want that game covered.

Afterwards I headed to Cypress to cover the Women’s halfpipe… The Men’s was the day before and looked pretty exciting. The buses have been pretty bad, I think I mentioned Cypress already, the bus typically has let us off about a half a mile from a security checkpoint, after that checkpoint we have to get back on another shuttle.  The first day the bus drove us up to the checkpoint which was great, the last few times they didn’t which sucks when you’re lugging gear.  So this time we had a driver who normally shuttles the athletes around and he started to drive us to the checkpoint and some dumb lady on the bus says – “but we are normally dropped off back there” – seriously???  Luckily the guy checked with the police and they allowed us up to the checkpoint… saved five minutes of walking.

Remember that crazy staircase that I was so impressed with, here is a picture of it, I’ve heard between 150-200 steps (depending on which photographer is telling the story) – but you can see at the top of the staircase are bleacher seats – a huge amount, I think they said holds like 8,000 people, just an amazing enginering feat built onto the side of a mountain.

I had never photographed the halfpipe so I was semi excited to see what it was like.  The air they get is pretty cool, but I don’t know if the snowboarders were tired or what from the qualifying in the afternoon, but the competition was super anti-climatic.  They each had two runs, and the best of their two runs was the score that was used.  Most of them wiped out, but didn’t really seem to pissed about it, nor were they terribly happy when they won.  Very little jube afterwards too.  The USA won silver and that lady was like, whatever.  I was standing right next to her and she acted as if she just won a cup of coffee or something.  Once it ended we were all like – is that it?

Chatted with the photo manager Anthony Bolante for a little bit and was surprised to see Wally had come down all the way from Whistler.  The photo spots were really tough, a tiny area, I had to stand behind USA Today’s Jack Gruber and kinda shoot around him.  You can see in the photo below (I yanked this from Brian Peterson’s facebook page – thanks Brian:)), I’m at the far left, just to the right of the guy with the white hat and red tinted goggles.  Yesterday must have been a nightmare because there were at least twice as many photographers as there were today.

I didn’t get there to the shooting spots until 5 since I had the hockey game beforehand, but many people had been there since before 11, if you wanted to get on the mountain and shoot from the side of the halfpipe you had to be in position about an hour before training started, which I think was about 11 am and stay there all day through finals.

Transmitted and headed down, shuttle, walk, bus… MPC dropped off gear, light rail… and headed back to my room, but right before that Elliott (reporter) told me about a Chinese restaurant on the same block as our hotel that is open until 4, so I was excited about that, I went and ordered bbq pork and chestnuts, when i got back to my room i found it was chicken and chestnuts, but it was still pretty good…