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|| News Item: Posted 2004-09-08

Olympic Memories: Rick Rickman
'She was going down! I couldn't believe what I was seeing!'

By Rick Rickman

Photo by Rick Rickman

Photo by Rick Rickman

Gail Devers goes down in the 100-Meter Hurdles.
I always get very emotional at the end of an Olympics. There are times when I find myself crying quietly during performances by athletes as they cross the finish line or end a routine knowing that they have achieved an important goal in their lives.

All this emotion surging to the surface is, I guess, normal. I'm tired beyond belief. I'm physically spent. I'm homesick for my family and friends, and I also have achieved another important goal in my life.

This Olympics has been especially emotional for me for many reasons. I have been following the careers of Gail Devers and Allen Johnson carefully now for many years. I knew going to Athens that this would most likely be Devers last attempt at winning that elusive gold medal in the 100-Meter Hurdles. I also knew that this Olympics could very well be Allen Johnson's time in the sun for a gold medal and possibly a world record.

As we all know now, neither athlete did well. Not only that, but the circumstances that surrounded the performances were less than stellar. These two Olympic contenders went down to defeat in visually astonishing ways but the saddest thing for me was that, in Devers case, she will have to work though a very difficult ending to a stellar career.

I had asked specially to cover the days at the track when Devers and Johnson were to run. The day of Devers race in the 100-Meter Hurdles, I was so excited to have the opportunity to be present during this culminating performance, that it didn't matter that the night before I had had only 1 1/2 hours sleep.

It's always been a funny thing in my life that I truly believe that on many occasions there has been a guardian angel watching over me when I'm in the kind of bleary condition that I was in that day.

Anyway, the voice of that little angel was ringing in my head that afternoon telling me clearly to go to the side of the track hear hurdle number one. Now logically, there is no reason in the world why I would want to shoot an athlete at hurdle one but, I was too tired to argue with the voice so, I wandered dutifully down to hurdle one and took up my position. Truthfully, I felt a little stupid for being there but as the race neared I felt a little better because a few other photographers arrived.

A couple heats went off and I dutifully shot another American hurdler going over the first hurdle in her lane. I took a few minutes to look at the composition of the image and was less than impressed with it's graphic elements. I began to question my position again but Devers was in the next heat and I felt the need to get ready for her race.

Photo by Rick Rickman

Photo by Rick Rickman

Gail Devers goes down in the 100-Meter Hurdles.
Devers began to prepare herself for her heat. She walked to her blocks a couple times and positioned them to here liking. I had moved down a little to be able to see here hands on the track near here starting position. I've always been fascinated by her carefully grown and manicured fingernails. It's become a signature for her of sorts. I made a few shots of her hands and nails and then went back to my position near the first hurdle.

The starter barked a command to the blocks. He raised the starting gun and commanded, "set" and then almost everything began to slow down.

Devers was in lane six which was one of the lanes closest to me at the edge of the track. I had decided to try to shoot relatively tight hoping for just face, a hand and nails, and part of a lead leg.

However, the little voice began screaming now in a desperate pitch. It was saying, "not that camera," "not that camera," I heard the gun fire, and almost simultaneously was reaching for my other camera with the 80-200mm on it. I raised the lens and focused on lane six just as I began to see runner in my peripheral vision. I picked up Devers in her lane and was aware that the woman in lane 7 was already starting to raise leg to begin the leap for the first hurdle.

Amazingly, Devers was beginning to back off and was grimacing. I remember seeing this sense of pain develop in Devers face and began shooting. I kept shooting as Devers began to fall and become tangled in the first hurdle in her lane. She was going down! I couldn't believe what I was seeing!

I continued to shoot as she fell and at one point when she hit the track I had to raise from a squatting/kneeling position to a more upright position and I felt a tap on my back. I tried to drop back down and continue to find a view of Devers on the track that wasn't blocked by the camera track that NBC had erected for the straight away camera that was now right in my primary view.

I quickly moved over just a little and then up again to continue shooting. I followed Devers moves as she was helped from the track by he medical personnel. For a few moments I just choked back a clog in my throat and I could feel my eyes welling. I have few sports heroes.

Photo by Rick Rickman

Photo by Rick Rickman

Gail Devers goes down in the 100-Meter Hurdles.
I don't allow myself to become star struck but Devers is special to me. She's an older woman with a desire that rises above most athletes.

She's defied the odds consistently in running career and in my mind and that makes here special to me. To see her go out in such a way was almost like losing a close friend from an emotional standpoint.

I also realized that in my attempt to raise up to see Devers on the track I had put my fat balding head in front of one of the finest sports photographers in the industry and had probably inhibited him from get some important shots. I didn't realize it but Don Miralle had been directly behind me during that fall and was shooting with a longer lens.

My interference with his shots really made me feel bad because Don is one of those guys who will always be the first to offer help in anyway he can.

Now, not only was I emotionally a wreck but, I felt like I screwed a friend out of a picture. I tried in a lame sort of insufficient way to apologize for my callousness. I could see in Don's eyes that I had screwed him up even though in his very kind and usually polite fashion he was making light of it. I was so embarrassed now that I felt like I had to leave the track and went to a quiet room in the media work area to try and make some sense of it all.

There are moments in an Olympics that are so fleeting that can reduce you to tears and make you feel totally insignificant. It's those times when you're totally conflicted that make life seem so baffling. On one hand I had a good set of images that most likely no one else had and yet in my excitement of the moment I screwed a friends pictures. It's a strange aspect of this business that continues to be conflicting for me.

The sad irony of the Devers incident for me was that it became a non-story. Newsweek, the magazine I was working for didn't use the images. However, from a personal stand point they will always be some of my most cherished images and memories of this Olympic games.

Related Links:
Rick Rickman's member page

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