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

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August 20, 2008 12:13 PM

Olympics: The Usain asylum

Posted by Rod Mar

The world's fastest man, Jamaica's Usain Bolt, proved it again as he won the 200 meters in world-record time, adding to his gold medal and world record in the 100 meters.

Gotta love this guy.

A photographer's dream.

Poses before he races.

Poses while he races.

Poses after he races.

Heck, in the prelims, I think he did more posing than racing.

Really. Dude is ridiculous fast, and photogenic to boot.

I was at the Bird's Nest, mostly shooting a couple of local athletes, middle-distance runner Bernard Lagat and gold medal hopeful in the pole vault, Brad Walker.

The men's 200 was the highlight of the night, and everyone in the Nest was there to see it. Walker was passing height after height in the pole vault, so I sauntered over to the end of the track to catch some Lightning Bolt in a camera.

Most of the track shooters spend most of the day preparing for a race such as this.

Multiple remotes, carefully staked out positions, cameras already angled at the likely place the winner will look based on research from prior races ("This guy looks outside the track, this other guy always looks inside," they will say).

These masters of the track will have the 200 meters documented from start to finish, and they will have multiple great images.

I don't have the luxury of time to do that preparation (and let's face it, even if I did, I'd likely get it wrong anyway), so I had to trust what little I knew about Bolt and his racing style (gathered from watching him run one race -- the 100 meters).

Actually, because I was at the other end of the track, I didn't even have the luxury of time of thinking about a good spot, or even time to get to it had I thought of it in the first place.

I found myself at the apex of the horseshoe on the end of the 200-meter race, and thought, well, they'll be going pretty fast so maybe the celebration will last this long. After all, Bolt is a bit of a showman, and it will be his second gold of the Games.

I figured the 200-400mm zoom for the end of the race, and had the 70-200mm ready in case he ran closer to me.

From where I was, I couldn't see the start, nor the turn, nor the straightaway, nor the finish of the race.

But I was watching the race on the big video screen and knew he was pulling away.

I managed to pick him up just after the finish line as he celebrated:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

He kept running toward me, and I ditched the long glass for the shorter 70-200mm and got very lucky.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 80mm, ISO 2000, 1/1600th sec.,f2.8)

Bolt stopped right in front of me and put on a show.

He fell to his knees.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 130mm, ISO 2000, 1/1600th sec.,f2.8)

He laid on the ground.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 110mm, ISO 2000, 1/1600th sec.,f2.8)

He got back to his knees and kissed the track.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 130mm, ISO 2000, 1/1600th sec.,f2.8)

He posed again.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 86mm, ISO 2000, 1/1600th sec.,f2.8)

Heck, by this time, if I didn't have a good shot, I should have just turned in my cameras.

I certainly don't advise this method of shooting huge Olympic races.

It will not work, nine times out of 10.

But I had no choice, really. My job here is to shoot our local athletes, and whatever else comes my way when I'm not shooting the locals.

Tonight, the timing worked out, and so did the photos. I caught some luck.

As for those locals, Bernard Lagat won his heat. I shot him at the start, then did some pans, as the race goes about 13 minutes long.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 102mm, ISO 400, 1/15th sec.,f14)

Brad Walker had a tough night, missing all three of his attempts and being eliminated from the competition -- a shock, really, as he was a medal hopeful. He was hampered a bit by a faulty mechanism in his pole vault pit that got stuck when trying to raise the pole vault bar. He appeared to go on tilt, and didn't seem to enjoy his experience at all.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

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

For all you Washington readers, for your information, Lagat is a Cougar, Walker a Husky.

Make of that what you will.

My day began at 7 a.m. on a bus for BMX qualifying (hopefully I'll post about that soon), and ended when I got back to my housing at 2 a.m.

It's the Olympics, though, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

My friend Jim calls our credentials, "the Golden Ticket", like in the old Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory story.

It's true -- my credential lets me into a visual feast every day for 17 days, and I don't want to miss any of it.

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