I believe one of the most inspiring things a person can do in life is to be genuinely gracious towards someone who’s come out ahead of them. I’m extremely fortunate that, back home, in my inner-circle of friends, we’re continuously celebrating each others’ accomplishments, even if one or more members of the circle could be viewed as “ahead” of the others at a given time. I think we’ve all realized that the more people we surround ourselves with who are achieving their goals and dreams, the more likely that their momentum of success will transfer to us with regards to our pursuits.
It was clear yesterday that the Olympics athletes at Whitewater Stadium follow a similar mantra. Time and time again, I watched as athletes in the final medal round paddled their arms off across the finish line, only to land in fourth or lower place with no chance of taking home a medal. You’d think that, after losing, these guys would be furious, devastated, and bitter — hardly! What did 90% of them do? They paddled over to the guys who had just beaten them, all smiles, and offered handshakes, fist-bumps, and even embraces of congratulations!
Hannes Aigner (left) of Germany congratulates Peter Kauzer of Slovenia during men’s kayak finals.
Seeing this unfold time and time again through my lens actually made me a little emotional at one point, though I would have sworn to any photographers next to me that it was simply some of the cool mountain rain shower falling at the time that had landed on my cheek.
Consider this: The athletes here (many between 25 and 35 years old) have devoted their entire lifetime training for that one moment. Imagine training for over two decades for that one slice of time — that one paddle across the finish line — that one push. Now, imagine falling short. Would you be beaming with adoration for the victor sitting before you? Could you honestly say you’d dash to them with a hug and a cheer? If I’m being completely honest with myself and with you all, I’m not 100% sure that I could.
Mike Dawson (right) of New Zealand hugs competitor Pedro da Silva of Brazil during the men’s kayak finals.
This is why seeing this situation play out time and time again had such a deep impact on me. The top athletes in the world — the best of the best at their sport anywhere — were setting a textbook example of sportsmanship and graciousness on the world stage before me.
Yesterday was filled with Olympics ideals like this that I wish I could bottle up and take home with me and sprinkle, no, airdrop on the entire United States! While I know this isn’t possible, I hope the images I’m capturing of this sportsmanship will inspire others to be as gracious — athletes or otherwise — in their lives.
David Florence of Great Britain competes during the men’s canoe single semifinal.
I’ll let you guess how Jose Carvalho’s run went.
On the photography end, yesterday (as with any medal round) was one where I transitioned from focusing on the action of the sport to focusing on the reaction of the sport. We all know by now what these ladies and gents look like paddling down the rapids. Frankly, with some initial heats seeing over 20 riders, it can get a little repetitive. For me, once we get to the medal round, the reactions are key, and supersede any action that might take place.
I spent close to 30 minutes my first medals round at Whitewater researching with the photo staff as well as scouting the course to figure out where the best vantage point would be to capture those reactions. Planning your shooting positions ahead of time (and pre-visualizing the images you wish to capture) is very important here. When you’re alongside 100 other photographers, you can’t just waltz into a photo position five minutes before the event and expect to have a place to shoot. For example, the finish line spot I decided on for the medals round on Monday, I arrived at 45 minutes before the competition began, and I was already alongside five other photographers!
Giovanni de Gennaro of Italy throws his paddle during men’s kayak finals.
A young fan of France cheers during the men’s canoe single final.
Peter Kauzer of Slovenia reacts during men’s kayak finals.
Overcome with emotion, Japan’s Takuya Haneda reacts after taking bronze.
I also had to research and memorize the fastest route to get from the finish line position to the medals podium, where the gold, silver, and bronze would be awarded to the top finishers just moments later. I actually rehearsed walking this route before the race, so I’d know exactly what corners to cut, what security folks to clear, and what bridges (literally) to cross. When the time came, I was able to run this route flawlessly (30 pounds of gear in-tow) to land a prime spot to document the medals ceremony.
Logistics here is key, and it’s something I’m going to touch on in a later blog. You can have all the technical camera know-how in the world, but if you can’t formulate an intelligent plan on your own and stick to it, images and moments here will surely be lost.
Denis Gargaud Chanut of France on the podium with his gold medal after the men’s canoe single final.
Guy’s Portuguese Word of the Day is, “Parabéns,” pronounced, “Pa-da-bens,” meaning, “Congratulations,” as in, “Lots of parabéns were exchanged at the conclusion of the medals round.”