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|| News Item: Posted 2003-08-30

Long Days, Gold Medals and Dinner at Denny's
Working the World Gymnastics Championships

By Max Morse

Photo by Sports Shooter

Photo by Sports Shooter

Dave Black, Dan Scannel and Max Morse.
About six months ago I got a call from Dave Black, asking me if I wanted to be his assistant photo marshal at the World Championships of Gymnastics. This past month I spent two weeks at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim doing that job.

Athletes from around the world descended upon Southern California for the mid-August spectacle, and with them came the foreign media as well. Most of the foreigners were surprisingly fluent in English. And those that weren't generally understood us or had interpreters.

One of the problems that we ran into was with internationals using the language barrier as an excuse. One Chinese photographer kept pretending not to understand us as we spoke to him in English but we knew that between our tone and body language, he comprehended all of it. On a whole, however, the foreigners were very good to work with and helpful.

As far as Americans, there were even a few members in attendance, including Bert Hanashiro, Ron Taniwaki, Peter Read Miller, Mark Terrill, Erich Schlegel, Eric Risberg, Patrick Tower, Mike Blake, Jack Gruber, Grace Chiu, and Rick Rickman.

Dave Black was the head photo marshal and Dan Scannel and myself were his photo chiefs. What that basically means was we were in charge of all the photography. We did everything from choosing/delegating positions to arranging Internet access for the photographers transmitting to setting up the dart board in the digital workroom.

One thing I do have to say is that Dave worked his tail off to see that everyone got to good positions to make unique and interesting photographs. We had a pool of photographers that had main floor access (SI, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, AP, etc.), but every photographer there was given at least one "wild card" so that they could get onto the main floor and shoot.

Dave spent hours working this system out, especially so that everyone could get good coverage of the country they needed to represent the most. Apparently, many people told him that a system like this would never work · but we proved them wrong.

We also opened up a number of positions all around the arena. In a constant battle with TV and the arena officials, we wrangled a whole host of good shooting spots. We had a the "penalty box area" where photographers could sit dead center in the area and just up from the main floor. From there shooter could cover floor exercise, still ring, vaulting, parallel bars and high bar/uneven bars. In my opinion, if a photographer didn't have floor access, this was a great option and just as good sometimes as what the pool shooter had.

We also had high overhead spots. There were twelve spotlight platforms that we gained access to let people shoot from. However, the best (and most used) option was to shoot from any available seat in the house. Photogs were allowed to go almost anywhere, and I know that this made for some compelling shots.

Another thing I found very interesting was the different strategies from the different organizations. For example, Peter Read Miller of Sports Illustrated spent most of his time wandering the floor just looking for interesting shots. In contrast, an agency, let's say the AP for example, would have between 2 and 4 photographers there everyday. They would all be assigned different locations and teams in order to get complete coverage. The USA could be performing and an AP shooter wouldn't even befollowing them. All of the moves were very calculated, as it was extremely difficult to cover 4 to 6 different apparatuses at the same time.

Photo by Sports Shooter

Photo by Sports Shooter

Dave Black, Peter Read Miller, Mark Terrill chimping, Steve Dunn looking lost, Mike Fiala looking at some chicks, and Eric Schlegel wondering why he can't go to the Luau.
Another thing I learned very quickly was that it is damn hard to shoot gymnastics! While I only had limited shooting time, I was amazed at how difficult it is to get good shots. A big part of that was that while the arena lighting was up to the Olympic standard of 1/500th @ f/2.8 set on ASA 800, that rarely stopped the action. As it was, we saw a lot of smaller glass that could go more wide open. Another stop of light would have made all the difference.

One of the more interesting moments came during the Women's Team Finals competition. The U.S. was in the running, but the race was extremely close. The Americans. were on the uneven parallel bars and had been doing well when 15-year-old Hollie Vise stepped up to the competition podium.

Suddenly in a rush of panic, everyone realized that Hollie did not have her athlete number pinned to the back of her uniform --- a costly 2 point deduction if she went into the routine without it! Everyone started to scramble around, and the head table started to scrawl out the digits onto a piece of scrap paper (can you say home court advantage?). Heroically, photo marshal Dan Scannel jumped into action. He grabbed the paper and ran it over to Vise who got it pinned on just in time to avoid the penalty.

The U.S. women went on to win the first-ever gold medal in the Women's Team Competition --- this despite losing three of their top athletes to illness or injury just before the World's started.

The funniest part of the whole story is that Dan became a bit of a celebrity there at the Pond. All the writers wanted to know who the guy with the number was. There was even a paragraph about the incident in the AP story (however, they didn't get the story straight and didn't even include his name) and the Los Angeles Times got the incident wrong as well.

Photo by Greg Haerling / Brooks Institute

Photo by Greg Haerling / Brooks Institute

Svetlana Khorkina on the beam.
On the lighter side, we made sure to have a lot of fun. The first thing we did was decorate the workroom (luckily we had a separate space from the writers). On the first night, Dave and I raided a K-Mart in search of goodies. We left with a "Cat Welcome Mat," a fabulous red rug, the dart board, and a plastic swan we filled with candy named "Don Swan." Hanashiro kicked in a little decorating help with the inflatable palm trees (a little early for The Luau Bert?). Let's just say that the writers were coming to OUR room to get pictures with the swan and the trees.

The first few days of competition were grueling. Our day would start with a 7 a.m. with breakfast at Denny's and would end with a midnight dinner at · Denny's. Dave had a thing for four eggs over medium, an English muffin, and a chocolate milk shake · for both meals.

Luckily, after the first three days of qualifying, the schedule eased a bit,and we didn't have to be at the Pond until 3:00 p.m. That is when the fun started. Rickman invited us down to his nick of the woods in Laguna Niguel for the first ever Sports Shooter Surf Camp. Taniwaki came through with the barbecue (I should say feast!) and entertainment.

Next time you see Ron, ask him about The Pope. Everyone who tried to surf braved the shark-infested waters got up on their boards at least once. Dave on a surfboard was quite a sight! In fact, we had such a good time at the beach, we came back a few days later and did it again.

The other good thing about the shortened schedule was that it freed us from our Denny's strangle-hold and allowed us to go out for real meals. One particularly memorable meal came at Garcia's. Details can be seen at

Another cool thing that Dave did was he arranged an amazing opportunity for some Brooks Institute of Photography students to come down and shoot on day passes. Greg Haerling, Victor Maccharolli, Jeff Bottari, Frank Bott, and Dave Frescilli all drove to Anaheim and got a taste of what it takes to shoot a major sports event.

Photo by Sports Shooter

Photo by Sports Shooter

Max Morse lost the bet to Taniwaki- he couldn't finish the 5 pound burrito.
As far as the photography goes, I think that everyone did very well. It was fun to get up every morning and see what had been run in the different newspapers.

Also, I think that most everyone was happy with the images they made. My only wish was that I had been able to shoot more. It was tough being at an event where so many great pictures were being taken, and I had to just watch over others' shoulders.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the event was being a part of some history. The USA did better at this event than they ever have. The women walked away with a gold in the team competition while the men got the silver. Paul Hamm and Carly Patterson won the gold and silver, respectively, in the All-Around competitions.

All of these medals were completely unprecedented and I had to remind myself to stay objective and refrain from cheering. I did however pump my fist a few times when Patterson stuck her landing on the floor exercise.

All in all, the whole thing was an amazing experience. Working alongside such great professionals is always good, but I also got to learn about a different side of photography, in a different side of sports. Let's just say that I have my calendar marked for next year's Olympic Team qualifier back in Anaheim.

(Max Morse is a student at Brooks Institute of Photography. He spent the summer interning at Major League Baseball and learned at The Worlds that you never should try to eat anything bigger than your head.)

Related Links:
Max Morse's member page

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