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.

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!