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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 16, 2008 1:11 AM

Olympics: Phelps' Seventh Heaven

Posted by Rod Mar

Every morning when I drag myself out of bed and head to the Water Cube, I struggle just a little.

The days can be wearying, and it's a bit harder to get psyched every day.

Then I think to myself, "Don't be such a weenie. You think Michael Phelps is dragging out of bed today?"

Of course, Michael Phelps has untold millions riding on the outcome of his days in Beijing.

I have untold...millions of...I don't know what. But it sure is fun.

Anyway, I'm blessed to be here and it's not long every morning before I'm fired up to go see history.

Today was certainly no different.

As you already know, Phelps, in pursuit of his seventh gold medal (which would tie the legendary record set by American Mark Spitz), won the 100 meter butterfly by the slightest of margins.

Basically, he won by the click of my camera.

I was shooting from the other end of the pool, and wanted to make a photo of his start. After all these races and photos of him, I'm trying to mix up angles. Of course, there are really only four angles for most photographers at the pool.

Some agencies and Sports Illustrated are allowed to have cameras underwater. The photos have become a bit cliche' -- they tend to all look the same.

But Sports Illustrated photographer Heinz Kleutmeier's shot of "the Touch Heard 'Round the World", is sports photography at its best. Not satisfied with just an underwater photo, he placed his camera near the wall, anticipating just such a race.

I can't find a direct link, but you can see the photo for now at Sports Illustrated.

Looking for a direct look at his concentration, I made a tight shot of Phelps' face at the start.



(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

Followed him down the pool, again shooting tight.



(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

It's a quick race -- down and back -- and as I glanced at the scoreboard at the turn, I could see he was losing. I couldn't figure out quickly who was beating him -- was it his teammate Ian Crocker?

Most photographers go through these scenarios over and over in their minds -- if he loses, where am I going? What am I shooting?

By this time in the Olympics, it was easy to know that the photo would be Phelps, win or lose. When he touched, the crowd in the Cube went wild.

I was looking through my viewfinder and shooting and trying to decipher the crowd at the same time. No time to look up for myself.

Phelps turned, faced the scoreboard and looked up. I still had no idea about the outcome.



(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

Was the streak over?

He then turned and pointed at his USA teammates sitting poolside.



(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

Then, he pumped his left fist, stared back at the scoreboard for a second before splashing the water with both fists and letting out a guttural yell.



(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)



(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)


(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

We were again on deadline, so I moved the photo of his fists hitting the water with the spray all around him. I was trying to pick a frame that conveyed the all the emotion of the moment -- the coming from behind, the final touch, the uncertainty of the final result, the relief of winning.

The race was exciting and exhilarating and chaotic. We tried to choose a photo that reflected all of that.

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