Sochi 2014: Up The Pipe

Kaitlyn Farrington (USA) drops in for her second run in the ladies’ half pipe semifinal during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.

Today landed me back at the Extreme Park for ladies’ halfpipe qualifications and finals. Since I shot the men’s events yesterday from the ground, I decided to get out the crampons and take the long climb up on the deck to get up close and personal with the athletes as they competed.

Typically, shooting from the deck of the pipe allows you to get images looking straight up at the riders as they pop up into the air on each of their “hits”. I had a few things working against me today, however.

1. Most (not all) of the female riders do not get as much air as their male counterparts. 2. Most of the riders keep their heads tucked low into their bodies, leaving only the tops of their helmets visible (Torah Bright being a notable exception). 3. There is an overhead “flycam” above the pipe that is rigged with many, many cables, all of which serve to clutter what would otherwise be a pristine background. You’ll remember from one of my previous Sochi blogs where I explained that backgrounds can make or break sports action photos (or any images, for that matter).

Shooting from the deck is also very hit or miss. You can go through an entire ride and only come up with butts, backs, or bottoms of boards. When the gamble pays off, however, the deck offers the potential for images of this sport that just can’t be made from the ground.

This is another example of an image not doing the real world justice. Notice the ant-like people at the very bottom of the icy halfpipe, and you’ll begin to understand why getting to this position was such a challenge.

Without snowmobile rides for the press (as at Winter X Games), the only way up the pipe is to walk. I walked up and down the entire pipe a total of three times today (while carrying 40 pounds of camera gear), so I feel that my exercise quota is met for the month. When I say the climb is difficult, that’s putting it lightly. The snow here is very wet and icy, so even with the crampons, every other step left my boots sliding somewhere else.

Still, the extra effort was worth it, as my images rounded out those from the team of two other photographers I worked with tonight, giving us great overall coverage.

No Guy’s Russian Word of the Day today, because I’m exhausted.

Earlier in the afternoon, and on my first climb up the pipe here in Sochi, I met a jib operator named Mike who is from Indianapolis, of all places! Mike was a total team player, and was OK with my laying in the snow under his jib arm at times to shoot through the opening in the barriers. I’ve had my share of run-ins over the years with TV folks with a bad disposition towards photographers, but Mike was the total opposite.

I struggle with incorporating the halfpipe itself into my images, usually because I find the awesome backgrounds here to be far more interesting when juxtaposed against the riders. Here, Verena Rohrer (SUI) competes in her first run in ladies’ halfpipe qualification.

This patch of trees near the top of the pipe also provided an opportunity for a different background. Sarka Pancochova (CZE) competes in ladies’ halfpipe qualification.

As the sun started to set behind the mountain, it began to sidelight all the texture in the pipe carved out by the competitors’ boards. Arielle Gold (USA) during practice for ladies’ halfpipe qualification.

Beautiful sights like this have a way of sneaking up on you in Russia. On my way back up to the course between qualifications and finals (while waiting for a shuttle van outside the media room), I turned around to see one last sliver of golden sunlight hitting the mountains, complete with a shadow being cast from the mountains at my back.

Shuttle van driver representing with a Vladimir Putin phone case.

For the semifinals, I took a 600mm ƒ4 lens up the pipe to play with shooting the riders further down the pipe in the air with the spectators as their backgrounds. With the aperture wide open, the background melts away into interesting color texture.

These are the cables from the flycam that tend to ruin a lot of otherwise cool photos. I managed to capture China’s Jiayu Liu, however, in such a way that the cables almost made her look like a puppet suspended in air. What do you think?

I finally figured out why my snow pants have a thick piece of canvas sewn to the inside of the legs! It’s so when you snag your crampons on your pants like an idiot, you rip off that patch instead of tearing your pants! This happened on my way down the pipe, and yes, I did fall. Luckily, I was able to grab the barrier and simply drop down to my side, rather than sliding down the deck!

Thank you, Torah Bright, for getting some air and showing your face. You have a new fan.

Hannah Teter (USA) prepares to take off on her last run in the ladies snowboard halfpipe final.

Kaitlyn Farrington (USA) (left) receives a hug from Torah Bright (AUS) after winning the gold medal in the ladies snowboard halfpipe during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.

As I left the Gorki Media Center after eating dinner at 1am, these two Olympics volunteers were in the lobby cornering people with gifts of handmade valentines. Ladies in the United States, take careful notes. :-)

Posted in Photography, Photojournalism, Sochi Winter Olympics, Sports, Travel by Guy Rhodes on February 12th, 2014.

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