A Tribute to Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir

Featured

Recently, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir announced their retirement from the sport of ice dance.  In the days since, many articles have been written about the Canadian figure skaters whose on-ice partnership and off-ice friendship has spanned the past 22 years.

As someone who has had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know Tessa & Scott over the past several years, I too would like to share a few thoughts about this legendary duo.

With Glowing Hearts

Back in 2010, I served as a volunteer at the Vancouver Olympics and had the good fortune of attending more than 30 events throughout the course of the Games.

Unfortunately, I was not at the Pacific Coliseum on the final day of the ice dance competition, so I can’t claim to have witnessed Virtue & Moir’s historic gold medal performance in person.

Nevertheless, I had the pleasure of watching them skate in the Olympic Gala and later had a chance to congratulate them on their remarkable achievement when we crossed paths at the Vancouver airport following the Games.

When I first met Tessa & Scott, I was immediately struck by how gracious they were.  At the time, I never could have imagined that I’d eventually go on to form a friendship with the pair and have the opportunity to document some of their most memorable accomplishments in the years that followed.

IMG_9139.JPG

Combining Artistry & Athleticism

As a kid, I wasn’t an especially gifted athlete, but I loved staying active.  That said, while most boys my age played organized sports like hockey, I took a slightly different approach by taking dance lessons instead.

Looking back on it now, I realize that much of my appreciation for figure skating, and ice dance in particular, stems from the nearly 15 years that I spent doing ballet, tap and jazz.

Dancers are not only trained to develop their strength and stamina, but also become skilled at expressing themselves through movement, and captivating the audience by making difficult maneuvers look effortless. Of course, the same can be said of competitive figure skaters.

In all my life, I’ve never seen anyone combine artistry and athleticism more perfectly than Virtue & Moir.

2014-01-09_GK1082

Making History

Since 2010, I’ve witnessed Tessa & Scott prepare for and compete at multiple events, including the ISU World Figure Skating Championships, the Canadian National Skating Championships, the Autumn Classic International, and the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.  I’ve also had the pleasure of watching them perform several times with Stars on Ice, the CNE, and The Thank You Canada Tour.

Like anyone who’s ever seen Tessa & Scott skate, I’ve always been in complete awe of their athletic abilities, their artistic talents, and their undeniable chemistry as a pair.  Being rink-side when they won gold in PyeongChang was an almost spiritual experience.

As a photographer, it’s been exhilarating to document these performances, but the truth is, most of the credit for the resulting images is owed to the skaters themselves.  As I often say, I just press a button; the athletes do all the work.

PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games

Setting the Stage

It’s very hard to describe the feeling of being in such close proximity to someone (or, in this case, a duo) who is quite literally the best in the world at what they do.

While millions of people have had the opportunity to watch Tessa & Scott compete, relatively few have had the chance to see first-hand all the hard work that goes into each of their performances.

As someone who has been offered this rare glimpse behind the scenes, I must say, watching Tessa & Scott practice is every bit as inspiring as watching them compete. Every movement has a purpose, every stroke is executed in perfect unison, and every lift seems to defy the laws of physics.

Stars on Ice 2016

Pursuing Excellence

In recent years, I’ve often been asked what Virtue & Moir are like in person.  For those who may be wondering, I can honestly say, without reservation or exaggeration, that Tessa & Scott are two of the nicest, most genuine people I’ve ever met.

Tessa is beautifully poised, brilliantly smart, and incredibly thoughtful.  Scott is wickedly funny, extremely down-to-earth, and unfailingly supportive.  Together, they possess a synergy that is as impressive as it is rare.

From the very first time that I met them until now, I have always been inspired by their unified and relentless pursuit of excellence.

PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games

Recognizing Greatness

In conclusion, I simply want to congratulate Tessa & Scott on a truly remarkable figure skating career and wish them continued success in their future endeavors.

I would also like to express my sincerest thanks to the pair for entrusting me to photograph them on and off the ice on so many special occasions. I cannot tell you what an honour it’s been.

Throughout their 22-year on-ice partnership, Tessa & Scott transcended their sport, and I have no doubt that they will each continue to make a significant and meaningful difference in the lives of everyone they cross paths with.  Best of luck, you two!

2018-04-29_GK050_1

Below is a gallery featuring a very small sample of the thousands of photos I’ve taken of Tessa & Scott over the years… Enjoy!

 

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

All that glitters is not Gold

Day #5 of the Games marked the beginning of the Pair Skating competition. Canada is represented by three duos: Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford, Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau, and Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro.

Also of note is the pair of Ryom Tae Ok & Kim Ju Sik, from North Korea. Interestingly, Ryom and Kim trained with Canadian coach Bruno Marcotte in Montreal for two months in 2017, and are said to be big fans of two-time World Champions Duhamel & Radford.

The moment the North Koreans took to the ice for their short program, the crowd erupted in support of the pair. The now infamous PRK cheerleading squad was also in full force, with all 229 women seated in the same section of the arena chanting and swaying in unison.

The young skaters seemed to feed off the energy in the building, and delivered a captivating performance which earned them a score of 69.40. By placing among the top 16 teams, they also qualified to advance in the competition.

Next to skate were Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro. Competing for the first time together at the Olympics, the duo earned a score of 65.68. Shortly thereafter, Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau delivered a strong performance of their own, earning a score of 67.52. Both pairs qualified for tomorrow’s free skate.

Seven-time National Champions Megan Duhamel & Eric Radford, who were also part of the squad that earned gold in the Team Event, took to the ice for the third time in PyeongChang. The pair skated beautifully to April Meservy’s interpretation of U2’s “With or Without You” and earned a score of 76.82, placing them in 3rd after the short program.

The Winds of Winter

Not long after the figure skating wrapped-up, a wicked windstorm blew into the Gagneung area. The Venue Media Centre at the GIA, which is actually just a great big tent located outside the arena, started swaying precariously, prompting the PyeongChang Organizing Committee to evacuate the premises. My fellow photographers and I had to relocate to a designated area inside the arena in order to finish editing and uploading our images. Thankfully, in the end, no real harm was done.

Eventually I made my way back to the GMV for a quick nap, before heading to the Mountain Cluster for Wednesday evening’s medal ceremony. I must say, I didn’t quite expect to be making daily trips to the PyeongChang Olympic Plaza (POP), but the hour-long commute is actually quite relaxing. The scenery is beautiful and it’s nice to be able to daydream a little bit between events.

Braving the Storm

For this evening’s ceremony I was granted a spot in the pit directly in front of the stage. (Special thanks to the venue photo manager, Julia Vynokurova, for providing me with such a prime position!) I was very pleased to be able to photograph Kim Boutin receiving her bronze medal for yesterday’s 3rd place finish in the Ladies’ 500m short track event. What I hadn’t anticipated was how emotional the experience would be.

You see, following yesterday’s race, Kim faced unbelievable criticism from Korean fans who felt that she was somehow responsible for Choi Minjeong’s disqualification in the A Final. I first became aware of the severity of the situation last night when I posted and tagged a photo of Kim on my Instagram account, and within seconds people started posting very harsh and derogatory comments. As it happens, on-line trolls went so far as to issue death threats towards the young Olympian, despite the fact that she literally had nothing to do with the judges’ decision to penalize the Korean skater.

When Kim walked on stage for the medal ceremony she was smiling, but you could tell that she was not quite her usual self. She appeared exhausted, overwhelmed and uneasy. As she stood on the podium awaiting her medal, she began to cry. These were not tears of joy, but rather of distress. It was gut wrenching to witness. No one deserves to have their Olympic moment hijacked, in particular a woman who did nothing to merit such vile criticism.

To her credit, Kim put on a brave face when she received her medal, and smiled for me as I took her picture. Nevertheless, I felt badly that she was deprived of the joy that usually accompanies standing on the Olympic podium.

As soon as the medal presentation ended, I made my way to the mixed zone in order to capture some close-up shots and share a few words with the bronze medalist. While I can’t claim to know Kim very well, I felt it was important to let her know that she had the full support of her fellow Canadians.

Once Kim completed a few TV interviews, she made her way towards the area where I was standing and paused long enough for me to take a few pictures. I then offered her some words of encouragement and gave her a big hug. I’m not sure that my actions made much of a difference, but if nothing else hopefully Kim recognizes that we are all very proud of her accomplishments and wish her continued success during the rest of the Games.

Before leaving the POP, I decided to wander around the plaza and capture some photos of the Olympic Cauldron. Eventually, I hopped on a shuttle and made the return trip to the GMV. Upon arrival, I decided to visit Czech House nearby and enjoy a pint of Pilsner Urquell before calling it a night. The Olympics have only been going on for five days, yet I already have memories to last a lifetime. I can’t wait to see what excitement tomorrow brings!

Fierce, Fast and Fearless

On Day #4 of the Games, my first assignment wasn’t scheduled to take place until 7:00pm local time, which meant that I had a few hours to catch up on rest and take care of a few items on my to-do list.

I connected with my friend and fellow photographer Danielle Earl, and together we grabbed breakfast at the GMV and then made our way to the Main Press Centre to pick up our tickets for the next round of figure skating events.

While we were at the MPC, we were informed that a press conference was being held in recognition of Canadian freestyle skier Mikaël Kingsbury, who had won the men’s moguls competition the night before.  Since we had a bit of time on our hands, Danielle and I decided to sit in on the media avail.

It’s Good To Be The King!

At just 25 years of age, Mik Kingsbury is without question the most dominant freestyle skier in history.  Going into his second Olympics, he already boasts 69 World Cup podium finishes, including 48 victories.  In 2016-17 he won his sixth straight Crystal Globe as the overall World Cup champion for both moguls and all of freestyle skiing. Four years ago, he earned an Olympic silver medal at the Sochi 2014 Games.  The only item missing from his trophy case was an Olympic gold medal… that is, until now!

I’ve known Mik for a few years, and I’ve always been impressed by how well he carries himself.  He’s supremely confident, but not the slightest bit arrogant.  You can tell that he is highly competitive and extremely driven, but also very down-to-earth and cognisant of others.  Articulate in both French and English, Mik always gives honest and well though-out answers to the questions he’s asked, and today’s press conference was no exception.

Winning gold at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics was no fluke.  During the press conference, Mik talked about how he had been preparing for this occasion for most of his life.  In fact, he recounted how, at just 9 years of age, he drew a picture of the Olympic rings along with the words “I will win” and placed it above his bed.  15 years later, his mission statement was realized.

Mik’s parents, Julie and Robert, were also in attendance at the press conference.  It was wonderful to see them sharing such a proud moment with their son.  I was very pleased to be able to personally congratulate Mik and his family on such a momentous accomplishment.  There’s clearly no disputing the slogan on Mik’s lucky t-shirt, which reads, “It’s Good To Be The King!”

Fast and Fearless

Once the press conference wrapped up, Danielle and I decided to venture to the Olympic Sliding Centre, located within walking distance of the MPC.  Once we arrived at the venue, a volunteer spotted the two of us attempting the trek up to the top of the mountain, and kindly offered us a ride to the start gate.

(At a length of nearly 1.4 kilometers, at an average incline of 9.48%, and an altitude difference of 116.32m from bottom to top, walking the entire track with all our camera gear in tow would have been a serious workout that neither one of us was especially prepared for!)

It was rather brisk and windy at the top of the track, but the sun was shining, and I could barely contain my excitement when I realized that we’d arrived in time to watch a skeleton training session.

Here’s the thing… if I could pick only one Olympic sport to participate in, it would be, without question, skeleton.  After all, what could possibly be more exciting than plummeting head-first down a steep and treacherous track of ice on a tiny sled at speeds in excess of 130km/hr?!?

In this particular instance, since I’d left my spandex race suit at home, and this was actually a women’s training session, I had to settle on taking pictures rather than participating.

Being less than 4 feet away from the racers as they blazed past was such a rush!  In fact, I must have had a silly grin on my face the entire time I was at the track.  Thankfully, despite my exuberance, I was still able to capture some cool photos of these fearless women making it from start to finish in less than 53 seconds.

By comparison, it took me and Danielle nearly 90mins to walk the entire length of the track (with plenty of stops along the way).  By the time we made it to the finish line, we decided it was time to hop on a shuttle and head back to the GMV.

Short but Sweet

After a quick bite to eat and a brief nap, it was time for me to head to the GIA for an evening of short track speed skating.  Once again, I was fortunate to be granted a photo position at ice-level.  Events on the schedule included the Ladies’ 500m (Quarterfinals, Semifinals, Finals), as well as the Men’s 1,000m (Heats) and Men’s 5,000m (Heats).

In the Men’s 1,000m heats, Canadians Samuel Girard and Charles Hamelin both qualified for the quarterfinals, which will be held on February 17th.  Unfortunately, Charle Cournoyer did not advance.

On the upside, Charle is a member of the Men’s 5000m relay squad (along with Samuel Girard, Charles Hamelin, and Pascal Dion) which did qualify for the ‘A’ Final, which will take place on February 22nd.

Canada had two athletes competing in the Ladies’ 500m: Kim Boutin and Marianne St-Gelais. (Jamie Macdonald did not advance past the heats earlier in the week.)

Sadly, Marianne was penalized in her quarterfinal race, thus eliminating her from the competition.  This meant that Canada’s medal hopes in the Ladies’ 500m now rested on Kim’s shoulders.

It’s worth noting that the 23-year-old from Sherbrooke, Quebec, is competing in her first Olympics.  If Kim was feeling any pressure, then it certainly didn’t seem to be affecting her performance on the ice.  She finished 2nd in her quarterfinal, and then in the semi-final, judges deemed that Kim was impeded by a Chinese skater during the race, so she was granted a spot in the ‘A’ Final.

In addition to Kim Boutin, the ‘A’ Final included the current World Record holder (Elise Christie), the current Olympic Record holder (Choi Minjeong), as well as a 5-time Olympic medalist (Arianna Fontana) and a top-10 ranked Dutch skater (Yara Van Kerkhof).  In other words, the field was stacked!

The race itself only lasted about 42 seconds, but there was no shortage of action.  Kim finished the race in 4th place. However, following a lengthy review, judges deemed that Choi Minjeong (who originally finished in 2nd place) had impeded another skater, and therefore she was disqualified.  As a result, Kim was bumped up to 3rd place.

As luck would have it, I happened to be in the perfect position to capture Kim’s reaction the moment she found out that she had just won an Olympic Bronze medal.  The look on her face was one of total exhilaration and disbelief.  Within seconds Marianne St-Gelais came to embrace her teammate, and Kim’s coach soon followed.

It was total bedlam in the arena, as the Korean fans realized that their skater had been denied a medal, but Canadian fans (myself included) couldn’t have been happier!

As the saying goes, you have to be good to be lucky, and lucky to be good.  It would seem that the adage is as applicable to speed skaters as it is for photographers.

Canada strikes Gold!

Day #3 of the Games began bright and early, with a complete and (somewhat) healthy breakfast in the main dining hall at the GMV, followed by a relatively short (but blazing hot) shuttle ride to the GIA to photograph the final day of the figure skating Team Event.

For this session, I was seated directly behind the judging panel in what was known as Section ‘B’ (Adios, Section ‘X’!) . It was a slightly elevated position, but offered an excellent perspective of the entire ice surface. I honestly couldn’t have hoped for a better spot to photograph the free programs in the Men’s, Ladies’ and Ice Dance categories.

Based on the previous day’s results, Canada was solidly positioned in 1st place overall. Once the competition resumed, strong performances by Patrick Chan and Gabby Daleman, who finished 1st and 3rd in their respective categories, ensured that Canada would remain in the gold medal position.

A mesmerizing performance by the team co-captains, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, was icing on the proverbial cake. In the end, Canada finished with a total of 73 points, ahead of OAR (66 points), and USA (62 points).

I cannot describe how thrilling it was to witness and document Canada’s very first gold medal of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games!

Going into the competition, Canada did not veil the fact that they were aiming for gold in the Team Event, and legitimately felt they had the best possible squad to make that happen. I’m no expert, but based on the end result, it would seem to me that their plan was executed to perfection.

I must say, I was particularly proud of Patrick Chan, who showcased a terrific free program, and finally realized his dream of winning an Olympic gold medal.

It was also terrific to see the Canadian figure skaters supporting one another throughout the Team Event. Many of the skaters have grown up together, and I’m sure that the Olympics have already proven to be an incredible shared experience that they will always cherish.

Immediately following the conclusion of the ice dance category, there was a venue ceremony to recognize and applaud the top three teams overall. After the podium presentation, the medalists skated around the ice and posed for pictures. By this time, I had already made my way down to ice level and was able to capture some terrific shots of the Canadian skaters celebrating their gold medal victory.

Once the venue ceremony wrapped-up, I quickly sorted, edited, and uploaded a series of photos. I then had to make my way to PyeongChang Olympic Plaza (POP) for the medal ceremony.

In this case, getting to the venue required me to take three separate shuttle buses (GIA->GMV->IBC->POP). Upon arrival, I then had to make my way through the security, register at the venue media centre, toss my belongings in a locker, and get into position for the ceremony…

Owning the Podium

For those who may be wondering, medal ceremonies are scheduled to take place every evening throughout the Games, at PyeongChang Olympic Plaza, beginning at 7:00pm local time.

During the outdoor ceremony, the top three competitors from each event the previous day (or in some cases, the same day) are feted on the podium, and presented with their medals by officials from the International Olympic Committee. Next, the flags are raised while the national anthem of the victor is played. The medalists are then ushered across the stage to allow media and spectators to take photos of the athletes with their new hardware.

Following the ceremony, the athletes are brought down a ramp to the mixed zone area, where accredited journalists have the opportunity to interview them. EP Photographers are also able to position themselves in a designated area of the mixed zone to snap close-up shots of the athletes with their shiny new medals, which is always fun.

On this particular evening, I had the pleasure of photographing several Canadian medalists, including Justine Dufour-Lapointe (Silver – Women’s Moguls), Laurie Blouin (Silver – Slopestyle Snowboard), Ted-Jan Bloemen (Silver – Men’s 5,000m), and of course, the seven figure skaters who participated in the Team Event and earned our country its first gold medal of the Games.

For the ceremony itself, rather than requesting a photo position in the pit (a narrow moat between the stage and the audience), I opted instead for a position on a riser situated at the soundboard behind the crowd. I did this to ensure that I could capture photos of the entire figure skating team. I had a hunch that they would jump onto the podium in unison (as they had done in Sochi four years ago), so I wanted to make sure that I was ready when the moment came. Thankfully, the preparation paid off, and I made the shot!

Afterwards, I ventured to the mixed zone to capture a few shots of the Olympic Champions with their medals. I then had to pack up my gear, and make my way back to Gangneung as quickly as possible, in order to photograph the Canadians competing in the Women’s 1,500m long track speed skating event.

Life is a Korean Highway

It took me about an hour to get to the Gangneung Oval. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived at the venue, two of the three Canadian speed skaters (Josie Morrison & Kali Christ) had already completed their races. On the upside, I still managed to capture some decent shots of Brianne Tutt in action, so all was not lost.

So, to re-cap… I started my day at 6:00am, I ended up photographing a total of 11 Canadian athletes at 3 different venues, in 2 different clusters, requiring me to take no fewer than 8 separate shuttle buses, and eventually managed to make it back to the GMV just in time to grab dinner (4-cheese pizza) before the dining hall closed at 1:00am.

Now the time has come to sort and edit a few photos, head to bed, and start all over again in less than 5 hours.

Remember kids: Sleep is for the weak!

 

One for all, and all for one

Figure Skating Team Event

The Figure Skating Team Event resumed on Sunday, February 11th, with three disciplines, including Ice Dance (Short Dance), Ladies (Short Program), and Pair (Free Skating).

In the Ice Dance competition, Canada was represented by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. The duo performed their Latin-themed short dance, and finished in 1st place ahead of siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani of the United States, and Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of the OAR. This earned Canada 10 points in the Team Event.

In the Ladies category, Team Canada showcased Kaetlyn Osmond. The 22 year-old earned a score of 71.38, which was good enough for 3rd place, behind Evgenia Medvedeva of OAR, and Carolina Kostner of Italy. This gave Canada an additional 8 points in the overall competition.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford followed-up their solid result in the Pair Short Program two days earlier with another stellar performance in the Free Skate. Their score of 148.51 was good enough for 1st place overall, thus earning Canada 10 more points in the Team Event, and a 6-point lead over the Olympic Athletes from Russia going into the final day of the event.

As mentioned previously, Canada went into the Team Event as the odds-on favourite to win gold. It was great to see the skaters continue to live up to expectations, and perform head-and-shoulders above the rest of the competing nations. While I would have preferred to be shooting from a closer position to the ice (I was up in the rafters in ‘Section X’, which was about as far from the field of play as you could possibly be), at least I was in good company. I got to shoot alongside my friend, and figure skating photographer extraordinaire, Danielle Earl, as well as Postmedia photographer Leah Hennel, which was a lot of fun.

Once the Team Event wrapped up for the day, I then had to make my way next door to the Gangneung Oval for the Men’s 5000m Speed Skating competition.

Speed Skating – Men’s 5,000m

Team Canada only had one participant in the Men’s 5,000m race, but Ted-Jan Bloemen was hardly a token entry. As the reigning world record holder in the distance, Ted-Jan was a legitimate contender for gold in PyeongChang.

Ted-Jan skated in the second-to-last pairing, finishing in a time of 6:11.616, which was literally 2 thousandths of a second faster than the man he was racing against; Sverre Lunde Pedersen of Norway, who finished in 6:11.618. This meant that Ted-Jan was provisionally in 1st place while Lunde Pedersen was in 2nd, with only two skaters remaining. The final pair consisted of the legendary Sven Kramer of the Netherlands and Patrick Beckert of Germany.

Sven Kramer solidified his reputation as arguably the greatest speed skater of all time, with a new Olympic record of 6:09.76, thus earning his 4th Olympic gold medal, and 8th Olympic medal overall.

The Venue Photo Manager at GOV was a Brazilian fellow named Romulo Macedo. I mention him specifically because he was kind enough to allow me to photograph the venue ceremony from inside the oval. To be one of only 6 photographers granted access to this prime shooting position, literally just a few feet in front of the podium, was a huge thrill.

While Ted-Jan was no doubt pleased to win an Olympic silver medal, you could tell that he had his heart set on gold. I’m sure that he will use this result to fuel his resolve in the Men’s 10,000m race scheduled for February 15th.

All in all, it was a great day for Team Canada and me personally, and hopefully a sign of things to come in the days ahead!

Ready, Set, Go!

As the official photographer for Skate Canada and Speed Skating Canada, I am responsible for covering all figure skating, short track, and long track speed skating events throughout the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

On Friday, February 10th, I was assigned to photograph a total of four events at two separate venues: Men’s 1,500m heats & final, Women’s 500m heats, and Women’s 3,000m relay heats in Short Track at the Gangneung Ice Arena (GIA), as well as the Women’s 3,000m final in Long Track next door at the Gangneung Oval (GOV).

The competition schedule has been designed to cater primarily to the North American viewing audience.  Because PyeongChang is 14 hours ahead of the Eastern time zone, this means that many of the most popular events are held either early in the morning or late in the evening here in Korea.  On this particular date, the speed skating events began at 7:00pm local time, which meant that I had plenty of time to sort through my pictures from the Opening Ceremony before making my way from the Gangneung Media Village (GMV) to the GIA.

For the short track events, I was provided with a ‘Field of Play’ (FOP) photo position, which meant that I was at ice level.  FOP positions are very limited, but also highly coveted, because they offer unparalleled views of the action.  You are literally eye-to-eye with the skaters.  This also means that you have to be prepared to move very quickly in the event of a crash, since the cushioned padding around the rink is designed to absorb the impact and shift at least a foot or two away from the ice.  In other words, standing too close to the pads, or leaning a laptop or camera gear on top or against them is a very bad idea.

In the men’s 1,500m, Canada’s Samuel Girard and Charles Hamelin each advanced to the ‘A’ Final, while Pascal Dion advanced to the ‘B’ Final.  Unfortunately, Charles was penalized in the final, and Samuel finished just off the podium in 4th position.  Pascal finished in 12th place overall.

The Women’s 3,000m relay team (consisting of Marianne St-Gelais, Kim Boutin, Jamie Macdonald and Kasandra Bradette) qualified for the ‘A’ Final, which will take place on the evening of February 20th.

In the Women’s 500m heats, Kim Boutin and Marianne St-Gelais each advanced to the quarter finals (which will be held on February 13th), while Jamie Macdonald was penalized during her qualifying race and was therefore disqualified from advancing in the 500m event.

Over at the GOV, Canada had three athletes competing in the Women’s 3,000m final: Ivanie Blondin, Isabelle Weidemann, and Brianne Tutt.  They finished in 6th, 7th, and 20th positions, respectively.

The fact that these events were running simultaneously meant that I had to literally run between GIA and GOV four times throughout the evening.  I felt as though I was participating in my own version of the 3,000m final, minus the skates.  In the end, I was quite pleased with the photos, but I’ll let you decide if I did a decent job of capturing the action as it unfolded…