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…

 

Let the Games Begin!

Friday evening marked the beginning of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.  In fact, a handful of sporting events kicked-off on Wednesday, but the Opening Ceremony and the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron signified the official commencement of the Games.

Before I share a few thoughts on the Opening Ceremony, allow me to not-so-briefly re-cap my first few days in Korea…

The Road to PyeongChang

My journey from Ottawa to PyeongChang began bright and early on Tuesday morning (4:00am to be exact), and didn’t culminate until I arrived at the Gangneung Media Village (GMV) at approximately 8:00pm local time on Wednesday.  From start to finish, I was in transit for over 26 hours.

Thankfully, the trip was a smooth one, and perhaps most importantly, I arrived with all my baggage and camera gear intact. While it would have been nice to check into my room and simply dump my stuff and head to bed, there was still a lot of work to do before I could call it a day.

My first priority was to venture to the Main Press Centre (MPC) to sign some paperwork and pick up my official Olympic photographer’s sleeve, which, in addition to my “Olympic Identity and Accreditation Card” (OIAC), is a critical accessory.  Simply put, without both items, I would not be allowed to enter any Olympic venue to take pictures.

Much like the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, which included two distinct venue ‘clusters’ (Vancouver and Whistler), the PyeongChang Games are laid out in a similar way.  In this case, the GMV is located in the Coastal Cluster in Gangneung, and the MPC is located in the Mountain Cluster in Alpensia.  The two clusters are approximately an hour apart.  To get from one to the other, accredited personnel can take a special shuttle bus service.

By the time I made it to the MPC, received my photo sleeve, and then returned to the GMV, it was past midnight.  In other words, from the time I woke up in Ottawa on Tuesday, to the time I made it to bed, I was awake for more than 30 straight hours.

“Day -1”

On Thursday, after a few hours of sleep, I spent the morning familiarizing myself with the Coastal Cluster, and in particular the two venues where I will be spending the bulk of my time; the Gangneung Ice Arena (GIA) and the Gangneung Oval (GOV).  GIA is where the figure skating and short track speed skating events take place, and GOV is where all the long track speed skating events are held.

Team Canada’s long track team held a pre-competition press conference on Thursday afternoon at Gangneung Olympic Village.  Since I’m here shooting for Speed Skating Canada, I was asked to photograph the presser.  I must say, it was very inspiring to hear the athletes describe their excitement in advance of the Games, and express their pride in representing Canada on the world stage.

Later that evening, I decided to head to the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre to photograph the qualification round of the men’s normal hill individual competition.  Having never shot ski jumping before, and being positioned at least 200 yards from the take off, my photos weren’t great, but it still felt terrific to be shooting an Olympic event.

At the conclusion of ski jumping, I returned to the GMV and prepared for Friday’s assignment: the figure skating team event.

Go Team!

Friday morning began with breakfast at the GMV dining hall at 6:00am, followed by a brief shuttle ride to GIA.  A mandatory photo briefing is held two hours before every event, which, in this case, meant arriving at the rink before 8:00am.

Since all Olympic figure skating disciplines are considered ‘high-demand’ events, even photographers require tickets.  You can’t simply show up and claim a photo position; these are generally pre-determined by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  For instance, photo agencies such as Getty, Reuters and AP, are placed in prime spots around the field of play, whereas all other photographers end up in second-tier positions.

I’m hardly complaining.  The IOC makes every effort to ensure that photographers get the best images possible, regardless of the event or the venue.  While shooting from an elevated position at GIA wouldn’t have necessarily been my first choice, it does allow for a difference perspective of the action on the ice.

For those who may not be familiar with the figure skating team event, it consists of 10 countries that each designate skaters to compete in women’s, men’s, pairs, and ice dance categories.  Countries earn points based on their final ranking in each category.  Heading into the Olympics, Canada was widely considered the favourite to win gold in the team event.

In this case, the competition began with the men, followed by the pairs.  Canada’s representatives in these two categories were Patrick Chan and Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford.  Patrick placed 3rd with his short program, and Meagan and Eric placed 2nd with theirs.  Their combined result meant that Canada sat in 1st place overall after the first day of the competition.

Following the figure skating, I returned to the GMV to change into some warmer clothing before heading to the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony…

Let the Games Begin

PyeongChang Olympic Stadium is a temporary venue, which was constructed with only two events in mind: the opening and closing ceremonies.  It’s an open air stadium, located near the Alpensia Ski Resort, with seating capacity for 35,000 spectators.

While the temperatures here in Korea are generally warmer than they are back home in Ottawa at this time of year, it’s still winter, so there’s definitely a chill in the air.  Because the Opening Ceremony was being held outdoors, and I was required to be there at least two hours before the event began, I made sure to wear as many layers as possible in order to stay warm.

Because Canada’s co-flag bearers are ice dancers, and I happen to be at the Olympics serving as the official photographer for Skate Canada, I put in a special request for a high-demand ticket so that I could attend and take photos throughout the ceremony.  Fortunately, my request was granted and I was able to capture some very memorable moments over the course of the evening.

I’d be curious to know what those of you who watched the event from home on TV thought of the ceremony.  Witnessing it live was a truly mesmerizing experience.  The various elements of the event were at times poignant, humorous, uplifting, and thought-provoking.  Furthermore the entire evening was a feast for the eyes (and the camera), with such a tremendous mix of colours and themes.

Needless to say, my favourite moment of the evening was watching two very good friends of mine, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, carry the Canadian flag into the stadium.  Being able to photograph such a significant moment in both of their lives was such a privilege!

Unfortunately, I did not have an especially great view of the Olympic Cauldron being lit by Korean figure skater and Vancouver 2010 gold medallist Yuna Kim.  However, after the ceremony ended, I was able to get a much closer look at the cauldron, which was cool.

All in all, it was a very memorable evening, and a terrific way to kick-off my Olympic adventure.  This blog entry is already much longer than I intended, so rather than adding more words, I’d much rather share a few photos which will invariably do a much better job of describing the Opening Ceremony than I can.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog.  I hope to post additional entries in the days ahead.  Please stay tuned!

 

An Adventure of Olympic Proportions

Eight years ago, I had the distinct privilege of serving as a Domestic Dignitary Assistant during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.  Accompanying the mayor of the host city proved to be a truly life-changing experience.  Witnessing the world’s top winter athletes compete at the highest level was both inspiring and unforgettable.

In the months that followed, I had the pleasure of meeting several of the Canadian Olympians that represented our country so well at the Games.  What impressed me most about these encounters was how driven, yet humble each of the athletes was.  To me, these young people epitomize what it means to be Canadian.

Motivated by the athletes’ relentless pursuit of excellence, I made it my goal to find a way to back to the Olympics.

Fast forward to February, 2017.  This is when I was informed that I had been chosen to serve as the official photographer for Skate Canada and Speed Skating Canada at the upcoming PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.  Since then, I have worked very hard to prepare for this truly exceptional opportunity.

I am fully committed to doing everything I can to capture the moments that matter most to the athletes, their families and supporters.  Many of my own family members and friends have also expressed an interest in seeing my work and hearing about my Olympic adventure as it unfolds.

With that in mind, I am pleased to launch this blog, in order to share with you an insider’s view of the upcoming Olympics.  At this point, it’s hard to know how often the site will be updated, since I am scheduled to photograph multiple skating events each day.  Nevertheless, I will do my best to post a selection of images and include a re-cap whenever possible.

Thank you very much for your continued support and encouragement.  Enjoy the Games!