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|| News Item: Posted 2004-09-08

Olympic Memories: David Burnett
'Down the homestretch came a group of young Greek volunteers, carrying their blue and white flag over head ...'

By David Burnett

Photo by David Burnett / Contact Press Images

Photo by David Burnett / Contact Press Images

David Burnett and John Huet complete a lap around the track. Barely.
The Athens Olympics will remain for me a wonderful two - plus weeks. After Sydney none of us thought there could ever be a place as welcoming and friendly as Australia.

But surprisingly, I think Athens in its own way matched the standard of the Aussies. Plagued by bad press about preparations for the past couple of years, it would not have been surprising to see a lot of last minute, fill-in-the-gaps venues. But whether the planters had been there a week or a year, they were there, as were all the press goodies, and more importantly, the feelings among Athenians was positively engaging.

In 18 days I had one beef with one young volunteer, which for an Olympics is pretty amazing. I was wholly impressed by the staff and security folks --- they were "into" the Games big-time and their enthusiasm was infectious. Most of the venues were run efficiently, and after you finally "got" the bus system, you could more than just make do with the shuttles.

There was never a question of being able to work out of an unused seat (except for TV that is, the dreaded scourge), and in most cases, even rubbing elbows in the track moat, there were reasonable positions to work from. The last night of track and field I carried on a tradition started in 1984 at the L.A. Coliseum, where we dumped our gear, and took a lap around the track after almost everyone had left.

This time, it was a bit more random; I was with photographer John Huet (who I had met at the 2002 SLC games), near the finish line, waiting for the crowds to diminish enough to make our lap without interrupting the real show, when down the homestretch came a group of young Greek volunteers, carrying their blue and white flag over head, running with all the joy of a relay team who had just cracked a world record.

Photo by David Burnett / Contact Press Images

Photo by David Burnett / Contact Press Images

Young Greek volunteers grabbed a flag and paced a lap around the track, to the applause of the few remaining spectators.
We jumped in with them, and for the first time that week, I felt that my picture of flag draped runner was genuine and with feeling. It has become such a rote in track for winners to grab a handily placed flag, start to take their victory lap, and then be stopped by the still pool and TV cameras for what has, for me, become a completely ridiculous moment.

Photographers yelling to the winners how to hold the flags, where to stand, what to do. I know much of what happens on these big venues is due to television's iron grip and the need to try and get under the TV radar, but the morphing of Carl Lewis' spontaneous victory lap into the hideous scene of backpedaling stills pacing a victorious runner down the track is one I would just as soon live without.

Seeing those Greek kids on the track, flag trailing over head, made me feel that there is, yet, a real spirit of the games, and that in Athens, that spirit had won the hearts of nearly everyone.
In a world of overly self-important twits in colored blazers telling us what, where and how to do our jobs, it's refreshing beyond recognition to find a whole country who opened their doors, their hearts, and, thank God, their yogurt to us.

Related Links:
David Burnett's member page

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