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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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August 13, 2008 9:18 AM

Olympics: Phelps doubles, so do we

Posted by Rod Mar

As most of you know by now, last night (this morning, in Beijing), Michael Phelps earned two gold medals in swimming.

He wasn't the only one to double-dip -- here at the Times we were planning to cover two simultaneous events, at different venues, all on tight deadlines.

The events were swimming (Phelps going for two more golds) and the women's team competition in gymnastics.

Fortunately, the venues are next to each other. Understand that at the Olympics, to have two big events going on at the same time while across the street from each other is nothing short of amazing. Understand also, that just because they're across the street from each other doesn't mean it's a quick trip. With specific entrances and exits, as well as security to pass, what might normally be a five-minute walk becomes 15, easily.

Phelps' first race was the 200-meter butterfly final, going off at 7:21 p.m. (converting to Seattle time). His next race was the 200-meter freestyle relay, scheduled for 8:22 p.m. Women's gymnastics would start at 7:30 p.m.

Here were the deadlines: 8:30 p.m. for a Phelps' teaser photo for the newspaper's front page, 8:45 p.m. for a Phelps photo for the Sports section cover, 9 p.m. for gymnastics -- then re-editing for later editions as we went on.

We thought long and hard about it and made the following plan. (Still converting to Seattle time here)

5 p.m. -- Catch shuttle from media housing to Main Press Center

5:30 p.m. -- Race into MPC, buy double-shot of espresso and almond cookies for breakfast, meet crew for logisitics meeting. Our crew consists of me, a photo editor, two assistants (one for each venue), and a runner who will have scooter at our disposal.

6 p.m. -- Head to National Indoor Stadium, site of gymnastics.

6:20 p.m. -- Photo editor sets up shop in photo workroom. Assistant and I head over to Water Cube. Driver traces route he will take with the mini-scooter.

6:45 p.m. -- I am in my spot for Michael Phelps' first race, the 200m butterfly.

7:21 p.m. -- Phelps wins his race handily, his fourth gold of the games, first of the day. I hand the compact flash card to my assistant, who runs it outside to the driver. He then rides the scooter over to the gymnastics venue, where an editor is waiting to transmit an image back to Seattle.



(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 310mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec.,f4.0)


(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4.0)

7:30 p.m. -- Leave Water Cube. Scooter dude drives me over to gymnastics, the assistant stays to guard my photo position.

7:45 p.m. -- Shoot a quick photo of USA first rotation -- the vault. Find out it's the final gymnast on this apparatus. Switch from 200-400mm telephoto lens to a shorter 70-200mm lens. Can't miss the shot with only one chance. I compose loose, trying to set the scene and fire away. Hand card to second assistant who takes it to editor for shipping. Because of the planning, we're way ahead of our deadlines.



(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/2.8 lens @ 75mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

8 p.m. -- Scooter back to Water Cube, find a position for Phelps' second race, the 200m freestyle relay.

8:15 p.m. .-- See Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Jason Kidd with Dara Torres. Shoot them for feature.



(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 850mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f5.6)

8:22 p.m. -- Shoot Phelps' easy win in the relay. Don't want to shoot from same spot as the relay from Monday, so I choose a different angle.



(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 850mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f5.6)

Keeping in mind that the photo might run small on the sports cover, I also shoot a photo that can be read at a smaller size.



(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 850mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f5.6)

Repeat steps as before -- card to assistant, who scooters it to other venue. Gather equipment, wait for driver to return.

8:45 p.m. -- Get e-mail from office, subject line, "Thank you sir, may I have another?" They'd like another gymnastics photo by midnight. Luckily, we have a great system in place. I grab a both the 600mm and 200-400mm lenses as I will have to fast and flexible as I head back to the field of play. Spot USA on the balance beam on opposite end of arena. The background is strong, and I shoot no more than a dozen frames before sending the card back.



(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 400mm. ISO 3200, 1/500th sec.,f4.0)



(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 400mm. ISO 3200, 1/500th sec.,f4.0)

9: 45 p.m. -- Find out we made deadlines and Seattle is happy. Deadline for the second edition is 10:15 p.m. The event should be just ending. While I'd love to be making tons of photos right now, I have to respect my on-location photo editor -- on deadline, the last thing he needs is to sort through hundreds of photos that won't make the paper.

9:20 p.m. -- It's over. China wins and I shoot a bit of the celebration.



(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f4.0)

They are followed by USA and Romania. Wait for medal ceremony.

9:40 p.m. -- Medal ceremony begins. I learn that USA mistakes have cost them. While everyone gathers in front of the podium, I take the 600mm lens and go where no one else is shooting from. I know the shot I want -- I want something with both the USA and Chinese teams in it. I spot where the nations' flags will be raised and head in that direction. I want their faces facing me. Security has blocked off the area I need to be in, so in Mandarin, I ask the crew running the boom camera for television if I can stand beneath the boom. They agree, and I find the photo I want of the U.S. team looking at the Chinese team with their gold medals.



(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 850mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f5.6)


10 p.m. -- Photos are being edited and sent. Things have gone, well, swimmingly (Have I used that cliche this week? I feel like I have. Hmmm.)

10:30 p.m. -- All the gear is packed away. Seattle is happy, the photo editor battled for good play and the designers back home kept cool under pressure. Our Beijing crew did a great job, so it's off for Peking Duck for lunch! (Yes, in Beijing time, it's 1:30 p.m.)

We've crammed a day's work into about four hours in two different venues, going back and fourth four times.

That's some Olympic fun, and our version of the "double."

And now, the real story:

*Postscript* -- Actually, I'm kidding. We didn't have an on-site photo editor. Actually, neither did we have the assistants, the scooter, the parking pass, the necessary credentials. I just did a lot of walking and hauling gear between venues, and shot and edited quickly. Our great staff at the paper always provides me support and makes my photos look good in the paper.

*Post-postscript* -- I don't speak any Mandarin.

*Post-post-postscript* -- I did have the double espresso and almond cookies for breakfast.

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