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|| News Item: Posted 2004-08-23

Athens 2004: A Photographer's Blog. Part 1
San Jose Mercury News staff photographer Nhat V. Meyer is in Athens, Greece covering his first Olympic Games

By Nhat V. Meyer, San Jose Mercury News

Photo by
Editors note: member and San Jose Mercury News staff photographer Nhat V. Meyer is in Athens, Greece covering his first Olympic Games for KRT (Knight Ridder Tribune) and the Mercury News. KRT is a wire service - there are seven others there from KRT papers: The Charlotte Observer, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Kansas City Star, Miami Herald, Philadelphia Enquirer, Contra Costa Times, and the Detroit Free Press.

Following are some excerpts from his blog that he is updating daily for family and friends about his experiences in Athens.

Part One:

Flying to Athens
August 8, 2004

Don't fly Air France if you are planning on bringing a lot of gear. They have some pretty strict weight restrictions, which of course weren't noted on their website. Most airlines just charge a fee ($50-75) if you go over the weight limit, Air France charges $400! After waiting for some dread-locked dude to weigh himself I found out that I was 12 kg over on one of my check-on's and 12 kg over (or twice the limit) on my carry-on luggage. My other option was a $140 extra bag fee.

I hate to check equipment but I had to check all my lenses. I was planning on carrying-on 3 camera bodies and a 400mm f2.8 lens. Instead I'm traveling with just 3 bodies. If I'm traveling I'd rather carry my gear on the plane than my clothes - it's much easier to go and buy a shirt then it is to replace a lens or a charger, etc...

I'm about to get on the plane so cross your fingers that my gear shows up at the airport in Athens. 10 1/2 hours to Paris, 2 hour layover and 3 1/2 hours to Athens. I arrive at 5:40 pm on Tuesday.

Arriving in Athens
August 10, 2004

It was a good omen and I knew I was on the right plane when legendary Sports Illustrated photographer Bill Frakes said hello to me... of course he was on the front of the plane while I had to make my way back to coach. (that seems to translate on many different levels) I'm hoping that omen applies to my photography and not to how the actual trip is going.

My room is fine, a tiny bit on the tiny side, a little bit bigger than a cubicle. I have a nice balcony though, it's the same size as the room. One odd thing is that I have to share a bathroom with my next door neighbor whom I have yet to meet. I can see the outside of the main venue from the front door of the "media village" I'm staying in which is called Selete (pronounced kinda like Sa-leh-teh). The main venue will hold opening and closing ceremonies among other things.

Tons of security, three checks just to get into Selete. Getting into the actual venues will be interesting.

Besides everything else - everyone seems to be really nice and most everyone speaks enough English to get by. I've seen two other people I recognize, both from AP. I'm supposed to get in touch with my fellow Knight Ridder Tribune (KRT) folk tomorrow.

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

USA's Venus Williams returns the ball during her first set against Hungary's Melinda Czink at the Olympic Tennis Center for the 2004 Olympics in Athens on Sunday, August 15, 2004. Williams won her match 6-1, 6-2.
The Media Press Center (MPC), a large five or six story maze-like building, has only has intranet connections (not internet)... They have a gillion available computers, just none that will connect to the outside world which is kinda frustrating. So I spent about 2 hours trying to find a place to dial into. Ended up going back to my room and dialing in from here.

Well I got about 30 minutes of sleep on each flight and I've been up for about 36+ hours so I'm off to bed...

Preparing for the Games to start
August 11, 2004

It's absolutely freezing here. Not something I thought I would be saying but the A/C in my room works a little bit too well. Luckily I had a long sleeve shirt, even that wasn't enough, I was damn cold last night and woke up several times cause my blanket had fallen off my miniature bed (it's about 5'8" long 2' 6" wide). I even tried to turn the heat on but that didn't work. I got a solid six hours of sleep, I thought for sure I'd sleep-in but I woke up at 8:30 a.m. local time after going to bed sometime after 2:00 a.m.

Oscar, my boy (Nhat's cat), has an interesting way of using his energy; he conserves it and then uses it all in one big burst. He takes it easy six days a week but once a week he just starts tearing around home running as fast as he can up and down the stairs and back and forth. It's quite funny to watch. So I thought I'd adopt his technique for the Olympics (hopefully not as funny looking). The last several weeks I've been trying to relax as much as possible and the next three weeks I plan on working like crazy - 12-16 hours a day. Granted much of that time will be sitting around waiting for the bus, the event to start, transmitting, etc...

There is an alternative train of thought that one should exercise more often before a big event so that they'll be in shape for the long days. We'll see.

Luggage note - one bag was supposed to arrive today at noon and two more at 3:00 p.m. That didn't happen. I called and they said all three were supposed to arrive between 9-11:00 p.m. It's 11:45 p.m. and my gear still hasn't shown up. When should I start to panic?

1:00 a.m.: All is well in my little world, my gear showed up about 15 minutes ago. All three bags. Nothing's missing or broken, the TSA locks I got came in handy (supposedly only TSA people have the key to the locks so at least when regular folk are taking care of the luggage they don't have access to it).

What did I learn - when traveling internationally do NOT take your carry-on luggage to the check-in booth you might get some anal-retentive person who wants to weigh your carry-on stuff. 12 kg is not a lot of weight. No one is going weigh the stuff after you check-in.

One day before Opening Ceremonies
August 12, 2004

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

A view from Nhat's position at the Opening Ceremonies.
I found out the hard way that even though it's only a 10 minute ride to the MPC you just can't walk, too many barriers. I wandered around the main venue for a couple of hours. Made my way past the Olympic Stadium, the main walkway and the vast farm-like community of tennis courts. I even took a couple of pictures of work still being completed at the main venue.

I've seen a lot more friendly faces wandering around the MPC today. We had our first, and only, photo meeting.

I found out what some of the Olympic "regulars" do to prepare, they spend the first several days just going to the venues to see how positions, light and background look. They also hob-nob with the photo-manager, he/she is the person who helps mediate photo spots.

I took the Metro downtown and spent several hours walking around before a company dinner. I even recognized streets I'd had been to with my family four years before. The Metro was pretty packed at 7 p.m. and I can only imagine how busy it'll be once the games start.

After dinner I went on a little expedition with David Eulitt (from the KC Star) and Al Diaz (Miami Herald) looking for the Canon/Nikon/Kodak party and the free schwag that they give away. It took us 20 minutes just to hail a taxi because most drivers said the location was too far away??? After trying to find someone for a good 20 minutes one nice dude finally agreed to give us the 30 minute ride to Voulos, just South of Athens. Not sure why they had the party in such an inconvenient location, but it was a swanky beach-side club.

Opening Ceremonies - Friday the 13th
August 13, 2004

We had four photographers in the stadium tonight, I was on the North West side (if you are looking at the torch I was just left of the torch five rows up from the ground). It was great to be there and I thought it was a a really good show - though I have no comparison. I don't think I have ever watched the opening ceremonies all the way through. Dean Rutz from The Seattle Times said that this one was really good but not as good as Sydney.

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

The torch is lit at the Opening Ceremonies in Athens on Friday, August 13, 2004.
I got to my seat an hour early and I was still late - everyone else was there and of course I was nine seats in. Sat in-between some Belgian dude and Japanese dude. Position really wasn't that good, five rows up so people in front would stand up every once in-a-while and people behind who would complain if we stood up (this is understandable because a ticket in cost $950 Euro - todays exchange rate that is close to $1,200 U.S.). The seats were tiny with very little room to do anything like change lenses or change bodies, etc., I was constantly bumping into the other dudes sitting next to me - as they did to me.

Well, hopefully I'll get back to my room at about 3:00 a.m. cause I have four or five back-to-back basketball games tomorrow morning starting at 9 a.m. If I want to be there at, say 8:30 a.m. I have to get up at 6:30 a.m. catch the 7:00 a.m. shuttle to the MPC then catch the 7:20 a.m. shuttle to Hellinca which should take about 40 minutes. Security and so forth adds up to the rest of the time.

Being in Greece reminds me of going to bars in Virginia. There is always that smell of cigarette smoke no matter where you go.

Footnote: Waited an hour and half for the bus which never showed up. Luckily some mini-vans shuttled us back to the hotel. It's now 4:00 a.m. and I just finished a wonderful Powerbar and Pemican Teriyaki Beef Jerky Dinner. Now I'm going to enjoy my 2 1/2 hours of sleep before 12 hours of basketball tomorrow, er, later today, whoohoo!

Day 1
August 14, 2004

Working a 14 hour day with 2 hours of sleep isn't as bad as it sounds. I ended up only shooting three basketball games instead of four or five. Still I had to get up at 6:30 a.m. in order to catch three different buses to get to the basketball venue by 8:30ish.

It was nice to finally start to actually photograph stuff. I photographed the Australia vs. Nigeria game first (Australia won), then the China vs. Korea game (China won), and finally the USA vs. New Zealand game (USA more than doubled the score).

The venue is pretty cool, there were plenty of shooting spots and each shooting position has a tiny cushioned seat! Two rows on each corner, only one corner didn't have the seats cause tv had set up a camera. I nearly brought my padded folding chair that I typically use for basketball but scrapped it cause it would have taken too much room, now I'm glad I did.

They did have some strange rules, such as when you can move. During most basketball games you can pretty much leave and arrive (to a floor shooting position) whenever you want, if you want to be polite you typically wait until a whistle blows so that there is a pause in action or if all the players are on the other side of the court. Here you can only move when there is a time out called. They actually had "photo supervisors" there to remind you of that, six of them on the floor - one on each corner and the two entrances.

So not only was the seating comfortable the venue was obviously air conditioned as well. So it wasn't that bad at all really. Just a long day. Food was terrible as it has been at every venue. Most of you know how low my standards are for food so if I say it's bad, then it's bad! Even though each booth had a menu posted with a bunch of food none of the booths actually carried all that food. So I had to wander to 8 different booths to find my stale pizza! yum.

I had some really good bus-karma on the way back too; even though I had to take three buses I never had to wait more than five minutes! Even took a 20 minute nap. Considering I waited of an hour and half last night I was super happy about that.

Day 2
August 15, 2004

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

USA's Stacey Nuveman, #33, left, is welcomed home after hitting a three-run homerun against Australia in the fourth inning at the Olympic Softball Stadium for the 2004 Olympics in Athens on Sunday, August 15, 2004. USA won 10-0.
Can I tell you how much I enjoy covering softball. I think the last time I covered a softball game with really good players was like 7+ years ago when I was working in Virginia at the time and they started a pro-softball league.

I do enjoy covering baseball, especially playoff or big rivalry games, but you do get those excruciatingly long games where one team is up by 8-10 runs and there is no way the other team is coming back. There are two big reasons I liked covering softball: A 25 second countdown clock - awesome - no more waiting for the pitcher to pick his nose and take out the garbage - they have to be ready to throw! Second they can call the game, they call it the "mercy rule" (mercy for the other team but for the spectators and us photographers as well). If a team is up by a certain amount they can call the game instead of drawing it out! USA softball was up by 10 runs after the fifth inning, so they said the heck with it, we're going home! I dig it.

Another plus is that most of the players I saw did not wear baseball hats, so you could actually see their faces - and not only that they often had pretty good emotion.

Left my room at about 8 a.m. in order to take three buses to get to the tennis venue... yes it is only a 20 minute walk but it is a pretty hilly walk and with my gear it would kill me. I have to conserve my energy as much as possible. It only took an hour though. I have a rolling case but my computer backpack, filled with other stuff too, weighs a ton and my shoulders are already sore from the fiasco at Opening Night.

Tennis was cool, the venue was pretty empty, few photographers and semi-decent light. Covered Venus Williams vs. Melinda Czink and Andy Roddick vs. Flavio Saretta. I had to book right after the last match and catch two buses to the MPC (main press center) and then two more buses to the softball venue. Grabbed a nice stale piece of pizza, bbq chips and a coke on the way out for lunch. I had to scan and caption my images on the third shuttle so that I could transmit with enough time to cover the softball game (had 30 minutes to spare before the games started).

Stay tuned for part 2...

Related Links:
Nhat V. Meyer's member page
Athens 2004: A Photographer's Blog. Part 2
Athens 2004: A Photographer's Blog. Part 3
Athens 2004: A Photographer's Blog. Part 4

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