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!

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!