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|| News Item: Posted 2004-09-07

Leading Off: Thirty Days In Athens
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Robert Hanashiro, right, and the Detroit Free-Press' Julian Gonzales during a time out at the women's beach volleyball quarter finals.
The naysayers were all predicting doom and gloom: unfinished venues, poor roads, strangled traffic and the worst of all --- the threat of terrorism.

Ok, ok ... yes I was one of them, telling people two years ago "it would be cool to move the Athens Olympics back to Sydney or even LA ..."

But after a few days catching up on some sleep and eating real Chinese food (sorry Bob and Jack, those spring rolls and chicken in Schezuan sauce we had in Maroussi was NOT Chinese food!) I have had some time to reflect on my month in Athens covering the Summer Olympic Games.

Rod Mar described it best after I told him how tired I was, saying it's "a marathon, not a sprint." And he's right. After covering eight Olympic Games, I have learned that it's best to pace yourself, especially in the context of working with a staff. After all, we all can't achieve the "gold medal" performance of the Dallas Morning News' Smiley Pool, who covered seven events in one day ... "just because" as he said.

After riding the roller coaster for nearly three weeks, photographers suffer from exhaustion, aches and pains from carrying gear from shuttle bus to shuttle bus and from event to event, home sickness, irritability and temper tantrums (lack of sleep does some nutty things to even the most good-natured types!) --- as well as adding to the photographer's favorite pastime: bitching.

So not to be too out of character, here are the observations from someone who spent 30 days in Athens.


The venues, unlike my forecast of two years ago, were all wonderful! They were big, well-lit, easy to work in, had cold water for the media and staffed by-in-large with friendly and helpful volunteers. For instance: Doing a lot of work in the Olympic Indoor Hall (home to all of the gymnastics competition and the medal round basketball games) I was 30 seconds from the field of play from the photo workroom.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

The "Beach Volleyball Cheerleaders" dance during a time out in the women's semi-finals.
The lighting was a strong 1/640 @ f/2.8 at ASA 640. But the BEST venue by far was BEACH VOLLEYBALL. Going from the crummy set - up they had in Atlanta (basically a sand pit with bleachers) this venue was on par with the Home Depot Center's main tennis stadium ... and better in some areas like more work space for the media and a view of the ocean. Of course it helps when you have a dozen bikini - clad "cheer leaders" providing "inspiration" and entertainment.

Was the only fair way to describe the behavior of my fellow photographers covering the Women's Gymnastics Team Finals. As the USA gymnasts sat on a bench against a cardboard wall separating photographers and the field of play awaiting the announcement if they would win a gold or silver medal ... out of control photographers were seen nearly climbing over one another to try to shoot a "Hail Mary". I know many of these guys would give me grief for saying this but ... the situation was not just unsightly but unprofessional, unsafe and not a photograph. Sometimes we have to "just punt" and admit we don't have a shot and leave it to the pool photographers, which did have a shot.

This near riot did not go unnoticed by officials and the next day the area along that wall was declared off limits for photographers and was no longer a photo position. Later in that session while Dave Black and I were waiting for Paul Hamm to perform on the still rings, a volunteer came running up and down the photographers' "moat " telling us we could no longer shoot from the area because NBC had decided they didn't like the sight of our lenses peering over the wall. Once the photo marshals straightened that mess out, some of us figured this was just retaliation for the ugly mob scene above the USA women gymnasts the night before that couldn't have looked very good on television ...

The self-tailoring job many did on their green photo vests that we had to wear to identify us as "EP" credentialed photographers. Lots of photographers hacked off the bottom half of the vest in the hopes of making it cooler. But NOT cool looking, that's for sure. The ragged edges, hanging threads and uneven cuts would certainly throw most of them Mister Black's "Worst Dressed List" ... if that list weren't meant for the rich and shameless. I guess most of those that took the scissor (or knife?) to their photo vests didn't want to spend $50 to have a REAL tailor do the work like the guys from Sports Illustrated. (Hey, is that an expense-able item?)

Of course I could go on and poke some fun at the "bread sandwiches" that were sold in the media lounges or the deteriorating hygiene habits of some photographers as the Games worn on or make light of the Japanese media's pre-occupation with friggin' ladders ... but I will leave that for another day or for others to write about.

Everyone has a different perspective on covering an event and that's why I asked several photographers to contribute to this issue with their own thoughts about the Athens Olympics.
But I did want to write about a few people I met along the way in Athens, people that made me think or made my life a little bit better.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Gymnastics Men's Team Final: Paul Hamm vaults.
A few days before the Opening Ceremony, my colleague Bob Deutsch and I decided to heed a recommendation and head out for a nice dinner away from the Main Press Center and the media village where we were staying.

We called for a cab and after a 45-minute wait, we jumped into one driven by Jannis, a 40-ish Athens native who lived for a time in New York and Florida ... before being deported back to Greece.

The drive to the restaurant was a fairly long one and Jannis in his deep voice talked about the Olympics, the difference between Greek and American women, transportation (always get into a cab in Athens BEFORE telling the driver your destination; you're more likely to get driven there instead of being left at the curb) and politics (boy do they hate President Bush in Greece!) in between telling us a little history of the area.

Some people find being in a large, strange city exhilarating, but I am always a little cautious and sometimes fearful of the unknown. But Jannis made the ride both entertaining and ... comforting.
He was just a very cool dude.

After dropping us off (it was beyond the above mentioned beach volleyball venue) he gave us some advice on finding a cab home and also gave us his cellphone number "just in case".

After the usual lengthy meal as is the norm in Europe, we were getting ready to leave when Bob said "Hey, I think someone is waving at me from the bar!"

Hustling outside, we spent several nervous minutes trying to hail a cab ... and then we heard a familiar voice from behind say "Bert and Bob! Where did you go?"

It was our new friend Jannis! He had returned a few minutes earlier thinking we would probably be done with dinner and needing a ride back to the media village.

We called on Jannis many times during our stay in Athens, including having him make a 3 am run to the airport to take our USA TODAY colleague Darr Beiser for an emergency trip home.

Over the course of several trips in Jannis' cab he told us many stories about Athens and Bob and I were given a great sense of what the people are really like. Jannis even offered to put us up in his home if we wanted to extend our stay beyond the Olympics!

* * *

One of the main complaints about the media village we lived in for four weeks was the lack of food. Many journalists getting home late would just eat something cold they had bought earlier and stored in the apartment refrigerator... or nothing at all, choosing to have a beer at the village's pub instead of eating.

Me, even if I got home at 1:30 or 2 am, I wanted a real dinner. So I would venture out and walk 20 minutes to the closest place for food ... a 24-hour little sandwich shop, Piccolo.

Making that walk after a day of softball in the 100-degree heat, followed up by a night session of gymnastics that lasted until 12:30 am was sometimes very difficult. But the two women who worked behind the counter at Piccolo became my late night lifeguards ... providing me with a smile along with a burger or sandwich.

One evening must have been particularly busy and by the time I got to Piccolo, one of them said "Oh, I have bad news. We are out of lettuce and tomatoes."

"What should I have then?" I asked.

"I will make you a club sandwich, " she replied happily.

That was the best darn club sandwich I have ever had ...sans lettuce and tomatoes.

(Note: Careful about asking for "chips" with a sandwich. The two times I did, I found them not on my plate but crushed up and inside the sandwich!)

On one of the last visits to Piccolo (I actually persuaded Bob that a late night sandwich or dish of ice cream was better than nada) I gave the two women USA TODAY Olympic pins. It was as if I had given them Olympic gold medals! For me, the sandwiches and smiles were worth gold ... especially at three in the morning.

* * *

One night during the second week of the Games, Piccolo was terribly crowded, even at 1 am. So I decided to walk further down the street to a fast-food place Goodys, Greece's answer to McDonalds.
Sometimes when you've worked a hard day and you're a long way from home --- tired, hungry and missing your family you let that get to you. You complain silently to yourself ... because there's nobody else around to listen to you bitching.

After waiting about 20 minutes for my burger and Greek salad I finally sat down, a little more pissed off than when I had entered the restaurant.

It was a busy night at track & field and Goodys was filled with people who had been at the Olympic Stadium. At a large table next to me were several moms and about 5 kids. The kids were all excited and full of energy, even at that late hour.

Eating my salad I watched the kids as they ran around the tables, singing and waving small Greek flags. Finally the three dads came to the tables, carrying trays of "happy meals" in those little boxes and they were all mobbed by the kids.

I sat there for about 20 minutes after I finished up my burger and listened to the dads talking to the children and even though I don't speak a word of Greek I just knew they were recounting what they had seen that evening at the Olympic Stadium.

It's funny, I felt so much better about not only the job I was doing, but abut myself as well. Kids are kids and parents are parents ... no matter what country you're eating a burger in.

The Greeks did a great job showing us that they indeed could be ready and hold a successful Olympics. They were great hosts and while some things were less than perfect (what was the deal with gravel instead of sidewalks???), it was a wonderful experience that I hope all of us that were there will look back on fondly, leaving out our tendency to dwell on the things that were uncomfortable for us.
Photographers are such a narcissistic bunch and we equate the failures and successes of an event we're covering on whether our comfort level was adequate or not.

For the people of Greece ... like Jannis, the two women behind the counter at Piccolo and the family in Goodys ... it was like my buddy Jack Gruber says: "It was good. All good."

* * *

Sports Shooter v.70 features a collection of writings by friends and colleagues about the just completed Athens Olympics and after reading them, you will get a good sense of what it was really all about ... even if you did happen to be there as well.

This issue also finishes up our series "Intern Diaries" as Alyssa Schukar, Chris Detrick, Robert Caplin and Justin Kase Conder give us their final thoughts on working at various newspapers this summer.

Z IS IN THE HOUSE --- we also officially announce the final addition to the faculty of the upcoming Sports Shooter Workshop & Luau, the legendary Michael Zagaris.

Trent Nelson tells us about a new digital editing and transmitting software, FotoTrafix. We also have a regular columns from the Photodude --- with whom I had a wonderful dinner in the Plaka a couple of days after the Opening Ceremony. And Rick Rickman checks in with another one of his informative missives on the business of photography.

So sit back, adjust the contract on your computer monitor, adjust the volume on that new Buckwheat Zydeco CD and enjoy Sports Shooter v. 70.

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