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|| News Item: Posted 2004-07-28

Leading Off: On The Fence
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Sada (left) and Emily Jacobson with the new facemask with the plexi-glass eye panel. The Jacobson sisters are both on the U.S. Fencing Team going to Athens.
It's a sport as steeped in tradition as any Olympic sport, it's roots traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. It has been an Olympic sports since "modern era" of The Games in 1896 (unlike "sports" like synchronized swimming or trampoline.)

It takes athleticism. Speed. Incredible hand-eye coordination. Precision.

Am I talking about the discus throw? Archery? Grecco - Roman wrestling? How about beach volleyball?

I'm talking fencing here folks!

That's right, that sport that we pay little attention to ... we haven't medaled since the 1984 Games ... but a sport I covered a lot in Sydney 4 years ago and one that I grew to appreciate and enjoy both as a photographer and spectator.

I'll admit like most American males, I'm a junkie for the Big Three --- baseball, football and basketball --- but every four years there is some obscure Olympic sport that catches my attention, whether it's because I've gotten to know an athlete through an assignment for USA TODAY or more likely because I was told to go cover the darn sport.

That was the case with fencing. Each morning for about 8 days in Sydney I strolled over to the venue at the Convention Center and shot the HELL out of it. Did I get a lot of play in the paper? Well, no. But the U.S. didn't have Keeth Smart and Sada Jacobson competing then as they do this year (they are the first Americans to be ranked #1 in the world).

Friends of mine know that I love tradition. And there are few sports that still cling to tradition. So a few months back I was amazed when a U.S. Olympic Committee media person told me that fencing was changing the facemask … the trade mark black mesh ... for something that would be clear so the competitors' faces are visible.

As a photographer I thought it was cool because I remembered the difficulty I had shooting fencing in Sydney because you couldn't see the competitors' eyes very well ... they were there (courtesy of the dodging tool in Photoshop!) but I felt that's what added to the mystique and tradition of the sport. The stark white uniforms and those black mesh facemasks.

A couple of weeks ago I was working on a story on two fencers heading to Athens and I asked them what they thought about the new clear facemask. They showed me one and I was shocked to see that the clear facemask was really a 5 1/2 inch wide clear slit covered by plexi-glass.

And that plexi-glass looked like it was home rigged and was pretty well scratched up.

It sort of reminded me of the "eyes" on Gort, the 7-foot tall robot from "The Day The Earth Stood Still."

"How do you like the new mask?" I asked.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Sada (left) and Emily Jacobson with the new facemask with the plexi-glass eye panel.
"It takes a while to get used to. I was one of the first (to use it in competition) and it was tough to get used to." said one, "And there's a sort of blind spot."

Sure enough when I peered through it, the clear plastic is held in place by a solid piece of metal all around causing a blind spot.

I wondered out loud "If there's a blind spot why on earth would the sport of fencing mess with tradition?"

"Oh," came the response, "NBC told us that if we wanted to be on TV we had to change the mask so they could see our eyes?"

What the ****?

I am a realist and I know that the "we-paid-for-this-event-so-you-damned-well-better-do-
what-we-want" attitude from networks and sponsors happens all of the time.

But to make changes that adversely alters the competitive aspect of the sport .... not to mention messes with my beloved tradition ... well, it's B.S.

God love the fencers and I sure won't begrudge them trying to get as much airtime from Athens as they can. But ...

Later in the shoot I got to talking to someone that will be working with the team in Athens when she asked me: "Do you ever tell an athlete what to do during a competition."

"What do you mean?" I replied.

"During the Titan Games someone from the tv network came up to the fencers and said she wanted to show them what to do after they scored a point during a match. I thought maybe that was something that the media did all the time, " she said. "She actually demonstrated for them how to pull off their mask and told them to do a 'Zorro-thing' into the closest camera."

What the ***?

"I would be FIRED if I even THOUGHT about telling a player how to jub!" I said a little too loud.

I guess what bothered me most about that wasn't so much the scripting of an athletes reaction ... how many still photographers will be shouting "KISS DE MEDAL" in a couple of weeks during the Olympics? A helluva lot I am sad to say ...

What bothered me is that people (civilians) think that's how we ALL act --- we (the media) set up everything.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Real jube. 9/19/2000 -- USA's Cliff Bayer, celebrates a tad too early, thinking he scored and won the match against Young-Ho Kim of Korea, in the quaterfinal round, in a Men's Individual Foil competition at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
I am no newbie. I have seen more than my share of television and still shooters setting up "spontaneous situations" --- I recently witnessed a local newspaper photographer ask an athlete to "do that again" when she missed a family hug at the finish line of an Oly qualifying event --- but when the public assumes this behavior is normal, well, that pisses me off.

I spent about 15 minutes with the two fencers and their team manager giving them a quick "Journalism Ethics 101" class.

I guess maybe it's something I should be doing with some of my colleagues and the TV people out there too ...

* * *

A sign I am getting old ...

Remakes of classics like "The Manchurian Candidate", Zatoichi" and heaven forbid ... "The Thunderbirds"???

I thought it couldn't get any lower when they did a (BAD) made-for-tv remake of Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window"!

So what's next? "Citizen Kane" starring Owen Wilson?

* * *

This is issue of the Sports Shooter Newsletter features a very poignant and personal story of a battle in Iraq by the Los Angeles Times' Rick Loomis.

Dave Black gives readers a peek into what he's packing for the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Athens. Tim Clayton writes about his experiences attending the World Press awards weekend --- and his thoughts on the state of sports photography.

This issue also starts a two-part look at what four students are up to this summer interning a various newspapers ... big and small. Darrell Miho tells of his experience on the other side of the photo positions at the Olympic Gymnastics and Swimming Team Trials, working as the head photo marshal.

And Tim Clark gets us ready for the upcoming football season.

So sit back, adjust the contrast on that monitor ... put all thoughts about BALCO out of your mind, turn down the volume on Diana Krall's "The Girl In The Other Room" CD ... and enjoy Sports Shooter v.69!

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