Memories of PyeongChang 2018

Can you recall exactly where you were and what you were doing on this date last year?

Personally, I will never forget February 20, 2018.  For me and countless others, it will forever be etched in mind as the day that Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir delivered an on-ice performance for the ages.

PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games
February 20, 2018: Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir performing their free dance at Gangneung Ice Arena, earning them an Olympic Gold Medal in the ice dance competition. (PHOTO: Greg Kolz)

I hadn’t really planned on writing a retrospective piece about my experience photographing the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.  However, as images and stories continue to show up on social media marking the one-year anniversary of the Games, I can’t help but reflect on what a privilege it was to bear witness to such an incredible series of athletic achievements; not just by Virtue & Moir, but many others as well.

My memories of PyeongChang are so vivid that it really does feel like just yesterday that I was in Korea serving as the official photographer for Skate Canada and Speed Skating Canada.  I’m rarely at a loss for words, but a year later, it’s still hard for me to adequately describe just how special and impactful the experience was.

While I’m quite proud of how I was able to manage and execute this monumental assignment, the truth is, I simply could not have done it without the help of so many others.  In particular, the advice I received from several photographers who have documented previous Olympic Games proved invaluable.

I want to specifically thank André Ringuette, Dave Holland, Jean Levac, Adrian Wyld, Sean Kilpatrick and André Forget for taking time out of their busy schedules to provide me with tips and guidance in the months leading up to the Games.

I also want to highlight what a pleasure it was to shoot alongside such accomplished photographers as Danielle Earl, Jason Ransom, Leah Hennel, Paul Chiasson, Vaughn Ridley, Steve Russell and David Jackson, among others, during the Games. I was (and continue to be) amazed and inspired by their work.

PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games
February 20, 2018: Scott Moir & Tessa Virtue celebrate their Olympic Gold Medal victory in the ice dance competition at Gangneung Ice Arena. (PHOTO: Greg Kolz)

Because there were so many highlights throughout the Olympics, it’s very difficult for me to narrow the list down to just a few favourites.

Seeing Team Canada enter PyeongChang Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony, witnessing Kim Boutin overcome incredible adversity to earn three medals in short track at her first Olympics, and watching the figure skating squad earn gold in the team event are some of my most cherished memories.

Of course, the one Olympic moment that stands out for me above all others involves being rinkside for Virtue & Moir’s breathtaking performance of Moulin Rouge in the ice dance competition.

Passion. Connected.

Over the past nine years, I’ve had the privilege of photographing Tessa and Scott both on and off the ice.  During that time, I’ve been afforded the rare opportunity to witness first-hand just how incredibly hard they’ve worked to become the very best in the world at what they do.  And while I am certainly a fan of their skating, I am even more fond of them as people.

Tessa and Scott are exceptional athletes and artists, and there is no question that their connection with one another is unparalleled.  However, what has always impressed me the most is how genuine and kind they are.  To me, this duo represents excellence in the truest sense of the word, and I am extremely grateful to them for their faith and confidence in me as a photographer.

PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games
February 20, 2018: Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir performing Moulin Rouge at Gangneung Ice Arena, which earned them an Olympic Gold Medal in the ice dance competition. (PHOTO: Greg Kolz)

When photographing major events, it’s of paramount importance to stay focused and impartial to the subject(s) you’re trying to capture.  This is especially critical to keep in mind while documenting sports, since the action moves very quickly and there is zero margin for error.

I must admit that it was quite a challenge keeping my emotions in check during Tessa and Scott’s free dance at the Gangneung Ice Arena.  In fact, I don’t know of anyone who watched the performance in-person or on TV that wasn’t completely mesmerized.

Nevertheless, I did the very best I could to not get too wrapped-up in what I was seeing, and in the end, I think the images I captured turned out about as well as I could have hoped.

The Hug Seen Around the World

Immediately following the performance, while Tessa and Scott were anxiously awaiting their score, I wanted to better position myself to capture their reaction when the results were announced.  Although I was initially located at the opposite end of the ice, I managed to hustle and claim a spot just a few feet away from the “Kiss & Cry” area with mere seconds to spare.

When Tessa and Scott were declared Olympic champions, they immediately started celebrating with their coaches.  As I was taking photos of this jubilant scene, Tessa approached and asked if she could give me a hug.  As a rule, sports photographers must be as discrete as possible and, as one might expect, interactions with the athletes are generally forbidden. In this particular instance, however, how could I possible say no?!

Of course, little did I realize that our embrace was being captured on camera.  Within seconds, my phone began buzzing incessantly, as friends and family sent text messages indicating that they’d spotted me on TV back home in Canada.  The ‘hug seen around the world’ lives on in the form of an animated gif and still brings a smile to my face, even though I appear terribly unprofessional.

Virtue Hug 2

As the celebration continued, I aimed to capture images of Tessa and Scott’s family and friends in the stands. I distinctly recall catching the attention of Tessa’s sister Jordan and asking her to assemble the group for a photo.  It was wonderful to see them huddled together as one big happy family, beaming with pride. Perhaps that explains why I was suddenly unable to contain my own excitement and proceeded to do a big first-pump, which Jordan and I have joked about several times since.

PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games
February 20, 2018: The Virtue and Moir Families celebrate Tessa & Scott’s gold medal victory in the ice dance competition at the Gangneung Ice Arena. (PHOTO: Greg Kolz)

More Than A Feeling

Once the victory ceremony began and Tessa and Scott took their rightful place at the top of the podium, I was immediately struck by the incredible bond the two skaters share.  Given that they have spent over twenty years together as ice dance partners and best friends, I’m not sure that anyone other than Tessa and Scott can truly understand or appreciate the uniqueness of their relationship.

PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games
February 20, 2018: Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir sshare a moment atop the podium following their Olympic Gold Medal victory in the ice dance competition. (PHOTO: Greg Kolz)

That said, I’m truly honoured that one of the photos I took during the victory ceremony was later chosen by Tessa and Scott to appear on the cover of their new book, which was released in October 2018.  When I learned that the reason they selected that image was because of the feelings that it captured and conveyed, I was very moved.  For them to appreciate my work in such a meaningful way was incredibly humbling.

고맙습니다

Overall, as I look back on my experience as a photographer at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, I still cannot believe how fortunate I was.

In addition to the people I mentioned above, I owe a debt of gratitude to Skate Canada (Emma Bowie) and Speed Skating Canada (Patrick Godbout) for enlisting me, to the Canadian athletes for inspiring me each and every day throughout the Games, to my friends and colleagues for offering me their unwavering support and encouragement, and to my parents and sister for cheering me on as though I too was an Olympian.

Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to document future Olympic Games, but regardless of whether that comes to pass, I will always have cherished memories of PyeongChang 2018.  Thank you for allowing me to share some of these with you!

Sincerely,

Greg

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