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!

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!