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|| News Item: Posted 2004-08-28

Athens 2004: A Photographer's Blog. Part 3
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 Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Romania's Viorica Susanu, left, embraces Georgeta Damian (Andrunache-), right, after winning the Women's Pairs at the Schinias Olympic Rowing and Canoeing Centre for the 2004 Olympic Games on Saturday, August 21, 2004.
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 Three:

Day 8
August 21, 2004

Covered rowing for the first time this morning. I guess it was okay. I tried to look online to get an idea of what a good rowing picture was in my head. The only problem is that all the pictures I saw were taken from the (yes I'm whining about this again) pool position. ha I just can't win.

It's really hard for me to gauge a sport (whether or not I enjoy covering it) when I'm looking through a 600mm f4 with a 2x. From 8:30 a.m. through 12:00ish were finals. What I didn't realize was that there was an A final, a B final and a C final. When I got there, a bit late at about 8:30 (no US team was competing until 10) there were between 70-100 photographers. The photo manager seemed cool and allowed us to go to non-photo positions as long as we were sitting. So there was plenty of space at the finish-line.

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Austria's Wolfgang Sigl reacts at the end of the Lightweight Men's Four final B at the Schinias Olympic Rowing and Canoeing Centre for the 2004 Olympic Games on Saturday, August 21, 2004.
The course is huge, I mean it goes forever. There was a nifty scoreboard behind me so I could see who was actually winning because from our perspective it was really impossible to tell (well at least for me as a first-timer).

It's really a small world after all. And it's really a miniature photo world out there. Besides seeing several people from the Bay Area or who used to work in the Bay Area or who have been to the Bay Area or who've heard of the Bay Area, I've run into a couple people who I hadn't seen in years - both from my Virginia days. At opening ceremonies I ran into Jim Collins he was a picture editor when I worked at The Pilot and now is a picture editor for AP in New York City, we exchanged numbers but I'm pretty sure we'll never have time to get together.

When I was in Olympia I ran into Getty staffer Doug Benc who is based in L.A. - he was an intern at The Pilot - that was weird to see him there. I had talked to him on the phone a couple times in the last several years. He's such a nice guy - offered me a ride back to Athens and the use of this high-speed line. Don't ask me why but I didn't take him up on either - maybe cause I didn't want to be a burden.

It's always nice to see a friendly familiar face when in a foreign place (I'm talking about foreign as in different not just overseas foreign if you know what I mean). Sometimes it's even nice to see an unfriendly familiar face when in a foreign place. Just one of those weird things.

Covered track in the evening. Wasn't as bad as last night because I went up high and got out of the scrum. Back to the small world thing. I asked a "photo team member" a question and she said - you must be American because of your accent where are you from? So I told her Bay Area and I asked where she was from - Denver - that's where I grew up! No way, way! She had just finished a couple of years in Bulgaria in the Peace Corp and decided to swing by the Olympics before heading home. Apparently she was a soccer player at the University of Denver and is heading to D.C. to look for work. Crazy stuff.

Worked from 7 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. but I did have a couple of hours off in the afternoon. Tomorrow I get to cover gymnastics - that'll be fun (I hope).

Day 9
August 22, 2004

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

"Patrick Schneider (center) works harder than me at the gymnastics venue." - Nhat V. Meyer
I could have sworn the room was just moving, then again when I was putting the key in the door I could have sworn the wall shifted to the right just a little bit. Maybe it was something in the pork I had for dinner. Anyway.

I got to sleep in again today, another solid 7 hours, I was going to try and go some place this morning because I didn't have anything planned, but then thought better of it and decided to rest. Cruised around the Olympic Stadium complex again.

I went to the gymnastics individual events competition tonight - Men's floor exercise, pommel horse and still rings, and Women's vault and uneven bars. Each apparatus was done separately which is good. During the team competition multiple people are competing at the same time which makes is difficult to cover. I double-teamed the event with Patrick Schneider from the Charlotte Observer and we even had an editor stop by (surprising cause tonight wasn't that big of a deal).

Schneider's work ethic makes me look like I'm out here on a sunday picnic. He's a great photographer and anytime he has extra time he goes to another event. Whenever I don't have an assignment I rest. He says that he wants to cover all the events he won't be able to cover at home... which is the majority of the events. Plus if he wants to go back to the hotel he's gotta take a 40 minute bus ride each way. I'm only a 5 minute bus ride away which makes it easy for me to go back to the room and take a shower or a nap or grab lunch etc...

I'm getting three to four hours of sleep (sometimes less) every other night. I get six or seven the other days. He's getting three to four every night. Maybe because he has two young boys, 3 and 5 years-old, he's used to not sleeping much.

We actually have it pretty easy to tell you the truth. The newspaper folks who come over here exclusively for their paper are the ones that are working really hard. I'm working kinda/sorta hard. They are often doing three, four, sometimes five different things in a day trying to fill reporters requests to get local athletes while trying to go to the big events of the day as well.

The big story tonight was the Men's 100 Meter Dash and let me tell you I'm glad I was at gymnastics. I don't like it and it doesn't like me. It's just too unpredictable. I covered the Women's 100 Meter Dash last night and the Women who won came out of nowhere... luckily I had a frame of her running but not of her crossing the finish line - I photographed the second place winner crossing the line - .03 seconds behind the winner. When the race is that close how anyone can tell who is winning while looking through the lens is way beyond me.

For the Women's 100 Meters AP had at least 10 people covering the race. We had three. Typically they place the runners with the best qualifying times in lanes 4, 5 and 6. So on a good day one of those lanes will win and you'll get a picture of the winner (whoohoo). On a bad day like yesterday lane 7 comes out of nowhere and you're S.O.L. Tonight Gatlin, the winner, ran in lane 2. When those things happen the likelihood of you, rather me, missing the picture of the winner is quite high.

Another way to increase your chances is to stick remote cameras up, ones that you trigger, well remotely - wirelessly. I brought remote stuff and I can set up to three different remotes if I really was enterprising enough - but let me tell you that crap is heavy! Everything we take with us to venues we have to carry ourselves and put through security. I'm already carrying a ton of stuff so for remotes you gotta add an extra camera body, lens, magic arm (the thing that will hold the remote), the pocket wizards (the remote triggers), and cords.

On a good day if I get one picture from a remote worth transmitting I'm happy, the majority of the time I get nothing - either it doesn't go off or it just doesn't look good. It's just too much work for so little payoff.

You know it's hot when you walk into an air conditioned building but you still sweat for about 10 minutes afterwards. They said it was supposed to be like 40 degrees Celsius which I think is the upper 90s.

Day 10
August 23, 2004

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Egypt's Amro Ibrahim, #5, right, can only watch as Spain celebrates in the second half their second of three goals they scored for Men's Field Hockey at the Olympic Hockey Centre in Athens on Monday, August 23, 2004. Spain won 3-0.
Men's Field Hockey is weird. Maybe weird is the wrong word - different. Field Hockey in general is different. It looks like a very uncomfortable sport to play because they have to really run and when they hit the ball they have to lean all the way down cause their sticks are so short. Maybe if they were on roller-skates or something. During half-time they turn on the sprinkler system and start watering the field so that it's wet. ?

I photographed Spain and Egypt this morning. Spain won 1-0.

After that I headed to the softball stadium - about 3 1/2 hours early. I took three buses down to the Helliniko complex, where softball, basketball (prelims), fencing, baseball, canoeing, and field hockey take place so there was no point in trying to leave for four hours. So I headed over there and set up a remote camera.

The Photo Manager was really nice, Victoria or Valentina something like that, but she was very helpful and nice and liberal on where I put my remote.

Patrick was there and he set one up on the roof while I decided to head out and put one on the outside first base side. Although it was hot I was in the shade for most of the game which was nice. The stadium was pretty much full for their gold medal game against Australia. Fans even took up one of the rows designated as a photo position - the position sucked anyways so it wasn't a big deal. I ended up going up into the stands because every time they scored a run the fans in front of us would stand and we couldn't get any reaction.

Found a seat at the very top next to a nice lady with a seriously heavy Bostonian accent. I told her that I was a photographer from San Jose. When her husband came back with three beers (Homer?) she said "He's a photographer with the San Jose Times".

Bonehead move of the week: When I was leaving in the morning I grabbed my remotes and one cord (the one that goes from the remote unit to the camera) and thought myself - should I bring an extra cord? Nah, of course not I've never needed an extra cord before. So as I'm pulling stuff out of my bag at the softball venue the cord is stuck on something so instead of trying to figure out what it was stuck on I just pulled as hard as I could and wouldn't you know it I ripped the cord in half!

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

USA softball celebrates their win over Australia to win the gold medal at the Olympic Softball Stadium in Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games on Monday, August 23, 2004. USA won 5-1 to win the gold medal.
This was a cord that Carlos from the SF Chronicle taught me how to rewire - so the good thing is that it only took me about 15-20 minutes to rewire the cord. And USA Today's Robert Hanashiro was nice enough to offer a cord if he could find an extra one.

The game was pretty good, fast, only seven innings - refer to the 08/15/04 post as to why I like covering softball. No "mercy rule" came into effect for this game because the US didn't earn enough runs. The final score was 5-1. There was some pretty good jubilation at the end of the game. My remote worked and I got a picture I was happy with. So far I've been really lucky with my remote - I've put it up twice and gotten four good images. Usually it takes putting it up four or five times before I get one usable image.

Just as the medal ceremony was about to start I got a call from George Bridges, one of the picture editors, and he said that there was a beach volleyball event in two hours at the beach volleyball complex where USA was playing USA. Even though the venue is realtively close - probably a 10-15 minute drive I had to take three different buses to get there - took an hour. So after waiting forever for the ceremony to start/finish I packed everything up and headed to the beach volley ball stadium. I got there halfway into the first game.

It was fun to cover because the venue, unlike all the others here, is amazingly laid back. I guess they are trying to attract a young hip crowd cause they had a wacky announcer/DJ who would play music between serves and tell everyone, in some odd European accent, to cheer all the time. There were about 12 bikini clad dancers who could come out during time outs. We could enter and leave court level at anytime.

After the game, I scanned and transmitted and took the three buses back to Selete. I have to get up early tomorrow to head out to the Schinias canoe and kayak complex, it's an hour ride away - same place I went for rowing. I was supposed to go up this morning but George was given incorrect information and when I double checked on the schedule I realized I didn't need to go up there today.

Day 11
August 24, 2004

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

USA's Andre Ward, right, fights Russia's Evgeny Makarenko in the fourth round at the Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall in Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games on Tuesday, August 24, 2004.
I know it sounds like a broken record and I'm sure you're tired of it - yes I got little sleep last night, yes I worked a minimum 14 hour day, yes it's hot, blah blah blah. What I should have done when I first started this blog was to do some sort of ratings system, some arbitrary system that will give nice vague generalizations which no one will quite understand but they'll get the idea, like say a color coding system. For example:

Green: A slow day, nice cool weather with 7-8 hours of sleep.
Yellow: A pretty busy day and kinda hot 5-6 hours of sleep.
Orange: A busy day, hot and humid weather 4-5 hours of sleep.
Red: Out of control busy, blazingly hot, 2-3 hours of sleep.

Was yesterday's blog foreshadowing or what?!? (about the walls moving). Well they really did move today. I was sitting in my room scanning in stuff from the kayak races this morning when the room started to roll back and forth. Apparently there was a 4.5 magnitude quake centered about 42 miles northeast of Athens, 12 miles beneath the Aegean Sea.

The bus drivers are really erratic here. I'll head up to one bus and ask them to open the luggage bay so I can put my rolling case down there and the guy will shake his head and just motion for me to get on the bus. What can I do? If I sit there and argue with them he'll just take off. Then the next bus I'll start to get on the bus with the case and the guy will refuse to let me on and force me to put it in the storage bay. And of course there is the rare bus driver who is more than happy to open the luggage bay.

The majority of the time I'm rolling around a LowePro Roadrunner case - it's small enough to be used as a carryon (on most planes) but large enough to be able to carry two to three camera bodies and either a 400mm f2.8 or a 600mm f4.

I'm starting to get a little annoyed by the music now. I'm pretty sure they only have one mix-cd because they seem to play the same exact songs at every venue. They were cool hip European songs for the first week, but now they are annoying technobable that I can't wait to get away from. I did see that I can purchase said CD for my collection - I guess if I ever want to have flashbacks I'll buy one.

I was actually given the evening off so I was planning on going back down to beach volleyball to cover the gold medal match with Dave Eulitt (KC Star). But just as I was getting my stuff together I got a call from George and he asked me to go to boxing - so that was fine. The guy I covered is local, from Oakland, so it all worked out.

Unfortunately the match didn't start until 9:45, so I ended up getting back late - gotta get up early to cover the Women's Triathlon tomorrow.

Day 12
August 25, 2004

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

An athlete in the Women's Triathlon heads up a steep hill at the Vouliagmeni Olympic Centre for the 2004 Olympic Games on Wednesday, August 25, 2004.
I found some friendly faces on IM (instant messenger) last night - so unfortunately I stayed up a little too late talking to them. Today was an Orange day - borderline Red (please refer to new ratings systems introduced yesterday).

Headed down to Vouliagmeni Olympic Centre this morning for the Women's Triathlon. Race didn't start until 10 but I wanted to be there by about 8:30-9:00 to figure out the course and stuff (couldn't find a map of the course anywhere). Three buses - two of them 35 minute rides. Julian Gonzalez from the Detroit Free Press also headed down there.

After the swim portion a tall, dark haired photo team member with an easy smile was really excited to take us to the giant hill the athletes had to climb (on their bikes). He said "eet ess Claose only twanty Meenuutes." Little did we know that he was a speed walker and he meant 20 minutes without gear. If you know me I like to walk at a pretty brisk pace, probably faster than most, but not super fast. The one good thing is I earned a bronze medal for the photohillwalk. I had to pass a Japanese photographer on the inside to earn that spot. I was sweating like a banshee but not half as much as some of the other dudes.

I wandered the course while Julian stuck around the transition area/finish line - he got two hours of sleep and I got four - and he got there before me - so he was entitled to whatever he wanted!

I went light today cause I knew I'd be walking around a lot - 300 f2.8 was my long lens with a 1.4x converter. The course was nice, in Southern Athens next to the beach. They had to shut down the a majority of the area because the course was pretty big. They had a swim, something like 1,500 meters, five laps on the bike (distance?) and three laps running (10k about 6.2 miles).

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Russia's Anastasia Davydova and Anastasia Ermakova kiss after their scores were announced for the Synchronized Swimming Duet at the Olympic Aquatic Centre for the 2004 Olympic Games on Wednesday, August 25, 2004.
I was going to try and make it to a waterpolo match before my synchro swimming assignment tonight (because the venues border each other) but the triathlon went longer than I expected and I ended up taking a nice nap in my room.

Tonight was the the duets not the team competition . Back in June I got to spend a day covering the synchro team - about 90% of them live in the Bay Area. It's amazing how much they train - 12 hours a day - in the water for about 8-9 hours - six days a week. They have an hour of weight training at 6 a.m. It's such a theatrical sport that's it's hard to remember how athletic they have to actually be, heck I don't think I could wade in the water for more than two minutes before I'd sink like a rock.

I could have sworn they were waving at me at one point. Just before the medal ceremony I was standing right below the jumbotron. I was sitting there looking at the team (who were there to cheer on the duet) and all of the sudden they started waving in my direction and I could swear they were looking at me - but I thought - do they actually remember me so I looked around and tried to see who they were waving at - but I didn't see anyone. But knowing my luck if I had waved they would definitely have been waving at someone else and I would have looked like an idiot. I do that all the time so any time I can not look like an idiot I take advantage of it. So if they were actually waving at me I looked like a jerk, I guess I can live with that.

12 duets competed tonight - each performance was about 2 1/2 minutes so the whole thing only took about an hour and a 15 minutes plus the medal ceremony. USA - bronze, Japan - silver, Russia - gold. I shot the first four down low and the last 8 up high.

Apparently synchronized swimming is a big deal in Japan, the Japanese media was out in full force. I'd say there were maybe 50 photographers there total - I counted at least 25 Japanese photographers! That is a little bit out of control. One dude was taking up two spots so I moved his stuff, he said something to me but I have no idea what he said. Maybe someone can translate for me.

I got back to my room at a reasonable hour - midnight so I was really happy about that.

Stay tuned for part 3...

Related Links:
Nhat V. Meyer's member page
Athens 2004: A Photographer's Blog. Part 1
Athens 2004: A Photographer's Blog. Part 2
Athens 2004: A Photographer's Blog. Part 4

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