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

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August 21, 2008 1:26 PM

Olympics: That's why they play the games

Posted by Rod Mar

If sportswriters, sports fans and broadcast pundits had their way, games would never have to be played.

That's because of statements like:

"No one is going to beat the New England Patriots this year."


"Big Brown will easily win the Triple Crown."

Two such already-decided-by-the-court-of-public-opinion contests were held tonight in Beijing.

The USA softball team hadn't lost in Olympic play since 2000, winning 22 straight. They'd run through this Olympic tournament, outscoring their opponents 57-2 on their way to the gold medal game against Japan.

USA's women's soccer team lost their best player before the Olympics even started. They lost their first game of the tournament, getting shut-out by Norway, 2-0. That they'd scrapped their way to the gold medal game was supposed to be a victory in itself.

But cliche' as it may sound, that's why we play the games.

Because we don't know how the ball will bounce, how the players will react, and ultimately, who will win on any given day.

My night started at the USA vs. Japan softball game. Japan had lost a semifinal (!) game, but due to the complicated tournament format, they'd earned their way back for a chance at gold.

And you know what happened. Japan played nearly flawlessly, and the USA played uncharacteristically flat. They committed two errors, employed questionable strategy, and their big bats failed them when they needed them most.

Japan 3, USA 1.

Japan scored in the third inning when Ayumi Karino's RBI single scored Masumi Mishina giving Japan a 1-0 lead. USA first baseman Tairia Flowers waits for play to resume as Japan celebrates their first run of the game:

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

In the next inning, Japan's Eri Yamada led off with a solo home run, making the score 2-0. I'd chosen to shoot from the outfield with a long lens (600mm). Because a softball field is smaller than baseball field, 600mm allows you to shoot fairly tight on home plate, as well as the dugouts and bases.

I tracked Yamada as she rounded the bases, but knew that a 2-0 lead had put the USA in real danger so I looked to tie in USA reaction with the Japanese elation.

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

As Yamada rounded second base, I was able to focus on USA shortstop Natasha Whately. What helps make this photo is Yamada looking back.

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

With one team holding a lead, I was able to shoot less to conserve space. Because I was shooting two events in one night, I knew I'd be downloading and editing images on a cab ride from one end of Beijing (softball) to the other (soccer). If the USA put the tying run at the plate, I would have been shooting like a madman again.

At the end of the game, the Japanese huddled and celebrated again, this time as USA's Caitin Lowe (26) walks back to the dugout after making the final out of the game.

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

I wanted to stay for the medals ceremony and capture some better USA reaction, but I had to get to soccer so I packed up and hailed a cab for the ride across town. There's nothing like the Olympics to give you the opportunity to edit photos from a taxi speeding past Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City.

When I arrived at soccer, the score was still 0-0. This was good, since USA goalkeeper Hope Solo is a local athlete for us and would be the focus of my coverage.

She did not disappoint. In hockey, the term for a goaltender playing extremely well is "standing on your head". Don't know what they call it in soccer, but Solo did it tonight. Maybe they call it, "playing worthy of a gold medal".

Solo stopped a point-blank shot by Brazil's Marta in the second half, preserving the tie:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

The scoreless contest went into extra time, and USA's Carli Lloyd scored in the 93rd minute to give the USA a lead. She celebrates by hugging teammate Shannon Boxx. At left are Brazil's Maycon and USA's Heather O'Reilly:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 1600, 1/1250th sec.,f4.0)

Once the USA got a lead, Brazil went on an all-out attack. For the last 10 minutes of the match, it seemed as if there were 17 yellow jerseys against 11 white ones.

Solo made a diving save and punched the ball away from the goal on a corner kick with only precious few moments left in the match:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

After the final whistle, the celebration was on as Solo erupted out of the goal:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

Colorful (understatement?) teammate Natasha Kai whipped off her jersey ala Brandi Chastain, revealing a torso more reminiscent of Dennis Rodman:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

Solo had stored some decorative "medals" with her towel in the goal mouth -- how's that for confidence -- and proudly displayed them after the game:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

Meanwhile, Brazil's players took the lost hard. Many of them just sat on the field, stunned:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/1250th sec.,f4.0)

Hope Solo, virtually banished from the team last year over an incident at the World Cup, was not only back in the good graces of her teammates, she was a proud gold medal winner as well.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2500, 1/640th sec.,f5.6)

No one knows what will happen in sports on any given day.

That's the thrill, it's what draws me to sports, and in the past two weeks I've seen a lifetime of incredible moments.

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