I am writing this last blog post from the cozy and safe confines of the American Express Centurion lounge in Miami as I wait for my next flight home to Dallas.
Trying to digest and put into words what myself and our wonderful team at USA Today went through over the last few weeks is not easy, but I’ll try…
First the positive… Huge thanks to Bob Rosato and the USA Today sports management team for extending another invite for me to be a part of the photo team again. Bob is the consummate professional and really knows just about everything when it comes to what to expect and not to expect with these events. He’s like a walking encyclopedia of information as he was a long time Sports Ilustrated staffer in a previous life with more SI covers than I can even count! In addition to that, Bob is a tremendous human being and friend who is willing to help anyone at anytime. So thanks Bob for all of the cool assignments and the chance to learn and photograph so many different sports and create fantastic memories!
Like I mentioned before, the Olympics is one of the most difficult and grueling things a photographer can do but sooooo rewarding when you persevere and make great images that will last a lifetime!
The negative… Rio is a challenge period. It is such a shame that a city with SOOO much beauty everywhere has so much crime and poverty. There were stories after stories everyday of folks getting robbed or equipment stolen. (Some even in the supposed “safe” zones.)
Here is a photo that my colleague Erich Schlegel took at the sailing venue of this woman in blue without a credential attempting to walk off with a 600mm f4 lens before getting caught red handed!
I had a conversation on a bus ride with another woman who lives in Rio and she told me that before the military showed up for the Olympics, she got robbed 3 times and even at gunpoint on Copacabana beach during the day!!
She pretty much told me that once the military leaves, the place will pretty much be insanely dangerous to be in. I also spoke with a woman at the airport who told me her roommate got held up on the road in Deodoro during traffic as a group of men on motorcycle circled the cab she was in while stopped in traffic and forced them to get out at gunpoint while they stole the car! Only after the thieves realized the car was a manual transmission, did they abandon it and ride off. This is literally stuff out of the movies and it really sometimes felt like the Hunger Games for photographers.
Since a lot of my events were over late at night, I chose to take a cab back to the hotel as the media buses dropped us off around 2.5 blocks from the hotel. Well, at 2am, it can be pretty scary walking by yourself with all of your gear! I always walked with my monopod out as well as with a personal alarm. Luckily, despite running into a few homeless folks and onlookers, I wasn’t really bothered. Maybe because I also look Brazilian. 🙂
As a photographer, it is difficult enough to get great story telling and unique images when you are battling with hundreds of other international photographers without having to worry about whether or not your gear is safe! Some gear even got stolen out of lockers, buses, and offices!! I pretty much tried to carry everything I would need most days in a backpack, but sometimes I just needed more equipment and had to take my roller bag too. I’m just glad and fortunate to be returning with all my equipment intact.
Traffic in Rio is horrible! Honestly, staying in Copacabana was both a blessing and a curse. While the environment was beautiful and the food was great(when we actually had a chance to eat), the bus routes and commutes that were provided were downright atrocious! Sometimes I would wait for buses that would never show up or they would show up an hour late, etc… Well, this was completely unacceptable if you had a 9am competition to cover. Basically after covering a midnight beach volleyball game and getting home around 2:30am, I’d have to get up at 4:30am and go wait for the bus that might or might not show. After a few days of this, I said the heck with that and got taxis whenever possible! The good thing was that taxis were really cheap but the bad thing is that some drivers didn’t understand much English and sometime took more creative routes. Still, WAY better than the media bus rides.
In fact, on my last bus ride back to Copacabana from the media press center, the bus made it to Ipanema before pulling over and the bus driver simply got off the bus. When he returned about 5 minutes later, he stated that the bus wouldn’t work and we would have to switch over to a new bus. Well, I am sure that would have taken hours, so my buddy and fellow USA Today photographer Kyle Terada and me hopped off and got a cab to take us the rest of the way. For me, traffic and logistics to the venues were 80% of the battle! Once I got to venues and figured out the best positions, etc… photographing was the easy part!
We really didn’t have any downtime until yesterday where we had an 8 hour gap between events and so Kyle and decided to visit Christ the Redeemer.(You kind of have to when in Rio, right?) It was also funny as I flew in with Kyle on the 3rd and pretty much didn’t see him again till yesterday.
It was a pretty surreal thing to see once we actually got to the mountaintop. We had to catch a shuttle in Copacabana and drive up halfway on the mountain where we would have to catch another shuttle to take us to the top. Once on the top, we would have to hike up what seemed like endless steps! (Only afterwards did we see an escalator! Yes, I blame Kyle for this. 🙂
As would be the theme of my Rio experience, our shuttle bus waited forever to go up and pretty much made us miss a glorious sunset. 🙁
It was still a great sight to behold though and here are a few images we got before having to get back for the women’s beach volleyball bronze and gold medal games.
Since my last blog, I did assignments at field hockey, equestrian, track and field, and lots more beach volleyball.
I went out and covered the equestrian show jumping which was something else I had never done. I thought it would be fun to setup a remote camera underneath one of the jumps so I got permission from the photo manager and found a pretty cool spot that I knew would be hit or miss as every horse jumps differently. All I needed was one or two nice frames to make me happy and that is exactly what happened! Here is a photo of me testing out my remote focus. I knew the horses would jump higher but as long as they were on the same focal plane, my focus would be sharp.
And here is one of the resulting photos…
I shot the “normal” photos too, but I noticed that some horses had some really long tails and I thought it would be fun to play with the hair in the composition for a few photos. I positioned myself at an angle where I would hopefully get a few cool photos and it worked out! Here is my fun with horses tails…
I was off to track and field for the first time and it was fun seeing the layout and trying to play with the light and be creative! Here are a couple…
I then covered the heartbreaking loss of Team USA beach volleyball players April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings. It was the first loss that Kerri has ever had at the Olympics and I feel that I captured a great moment of her and April embracing after the match…
It was also great to see them win the bronze medal as well as the Germans win the gold the next night. Very exciting stuff and it’s always great to photograph a medal ceremony!
Since our flight was at 8pm last night, Kyle and I decided to walk around Copacabana for practically the first time and even had a chance to grab some authentic cheese bread and pizza before our flight!
And this is for our friend James Lang who I know can’t wait to get back to the states to dip his french fries into a chocolate frostie!
All in all, it was an experience I will not forget and one I would do again in a heartbeat if asked. Thanks again to everyone for all of your comments , questions, and support over the last few weeks. I hope you enjoyed sharing the experience with me! Now I am off to Dallas to snuggle with Alycia and my puppies and to catch up on some much needed sleep! Obrigado!
KJ Images Photography
3832 Summersville Ln
Keller, TX 76244