Aug 6, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Colombia forward Isabel Cristina Romero Benitez (left) gets a hand to her face by USA forward Nana Faavesi (center) as Faavesi runs the ball during a rugby sevens match between the USA and Colombia at Deodoro Stadium in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
As the beacon tower from the sleepy Afonsos Air Force Base across the way cuts through the hushed night with its rhythmic green and white winks, an inviting cool breeze from the mountains beyond brings an even more relaxed sensation to my apartment balcony. In truth, relaxed is the last adjective I expected to use a week ago as I prepared to travel to Brazil. On the first bus ride here, especially after witnessing the motorcycle fatality on the road, I completely expected to be on-edge and looking forward to returning home daily.
Following my memorable experience in the favela during the opening ceremonies, and after getting settled into the photographic groove with three days of Olympics events, I can definitely say that I am enjoying my experience here in Rio. That’s not to say my guard has been let down, though. Camera gear always stays on my person, and if I have to set some of it down while I’m working, it goes between my feet where I can feel it. I’m always very aware of who’s around me, especially on the “dirty” (that’s Olympics lingo for not secured) shuttle busses that snake through the traffic-clogged streets of Deodoro, where I am covering most of my events.
I hit the ground running on Saturday, the first official day of competition, covering women’s rugby. The irony of only having covered a local rugby match once back home was not lost on me as I walked through the tunnel and onto the pitch of the rugby field at the Olympics! No pressure, right? In all honesty, covering events for the first time is actually quite exciting and freeing, because I’m not walking in with any preconceived notions about what the sport is supposed to be, or how it is supposed to be documented. I’m simply looking for the same aspects that make any sports photo stand out – a battle between opposing teams, a ball (if applicable), peak action, emotion, reaction, nice light, and if at all possible, clean backgrounds!
Great Britain back Joanne Watmore (top) is tackled by Brazil back Jaqueline Claudia Tells during a match between Great Britain and Brazil.
I used all those same guidelines when covering canoe and kayak slalom over the past two days, my other new-to-me events. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I climbed the stairs to the course, but when I got to the top, I was awe-struck! A man-made whitewater river roared with ferocity, with foamy white rapids that curled around plastic-lined blue “rocks” filling the course. If I closed my eyes (and muted the Katy Perry that was playing on the PA), I could have easily been standing next to a forest river on Michigan’s upper peninsula. A driving wind blew a refreshing spray off the rapids and made the slightly high temperatures of the afternoon bearable.
In the events, competitors row down the river in their kayak or canoe through gates that hang from cables overhead. The object is to make it through all the gates without touching them in the fastest time. If you touch a gate, a two second penalty is added to your score. I can only imagine the upper body strength and stamina it must take to make it down the entire course!
During one of the later heats on Sunday, I was reminded of the sportsmanship (from the audience, no less) that makes the Olympics so great. Near the end of the course, directly in front of my shooting position, competitor Bryden Nicholas from the Cook Islands accidentally stuck the nose of his kayak into one of the blue “rocks” of the river, immediately capsizing him. He floundered in the rapids for a few tense moments before righting himself and struggling to make it back through one of the gates he missed. Rather than sit silently indifferent, or disappointed at his mistake, the entire grandstands cheered with some of the loudest shouts and applause I’d heard all day! It was one of those moments that only seem to happen at the Olympics where chills ran up my spine.
Cook Islands’ Bryden Nicholas capsizes during the men’s kayak heats.
A little yin and yang with Azerbaijan’s Jure Meglic (left) and Slovakia’s Jana Dukatova.
It doesn’t seem to matter here if you win or lose. Just the fact that you’ve made it to the Olympics means that you’re among the best at your sport in the entire world, and that is respected and celebrated by everyone. The energy that this sportsmanship brings to the venues is palpable, and it carries over into my own work and day-to-day mood as well. It’s like an Olympics high that I wish I could bottle up and take back home with me. While I know that’s not possible in a literal sense, I’m hoping the stories and images I share here will help me remember that feeling and spirit, and to share it with others down the road.
The sun sets over Deodoro Stadium at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
Guy’s Portuguese Word of the Day is, “Respeito,” pronounced, “Heh-speh-toe,” meaning, “Respect,” as in, “The athletes and fans here have so much respeito for each other! It’s very inspiring.”