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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2008-09-04

Olympic Moments: Jack Gruber
'Covering an Olympics is so much more than just knowing the sport you are shooting.'

By Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Gruber's remote FINALLY worked! See a sequence of the images here: www.sportsshooter.com/special_feature/misc/gruber-oly08.html
This was my sixth Olympic games working for USA TODAY. Beijing probably was the first that I really felt comfortable knowing the finer details of how to navigate the games.

Covering an Olympics is so much more than just knowing the sport you are shooting. Relying upon a network of friends and colleagues from other agencies and newspapers all in Beijing was invaluable. Leaving the National Aquatics Center following one of Michael Phelps gold medal morning swims, I found myself sitting in the Main Press Center trying to hurry some lunch into my stomach. I hadn't realized it yet but after receiving a phone call from a photographer back at the water cube, I remembered I had left a camera body and lens sitting at a workspace at the pool. Earlier before leaving the water cube, I had pointed out to Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar that he was leaving the pool deck and one of his cameras was still out in the pool seats.

When you are tired, these things happen. Luckily, Chicago Tribune photographer Scott Strazzante was just heading out the door from the pool on his way to the MPC for some lunch and was able to schlep the camera and lens to me. Rod Mar explained this simply in three words: good camera karma.

The most important part of my Olympic planning was having a system and a plan to get my gear from venue to venue making life so much easier than previous Olympics. Using the Think Tank Security roller along with a functional Northface daypack kept my camera gear, remotes and computer stuff well organized for quick turnarounds as well as compact and light enough to travel quickly on foot and bus.

The biggest surprise of the Beijing Olympics for me was the new security system put in place by Beijing Olympic organizers. In past games, before entering the Main Press Center or any of the venues, photographers would have to pass through a security line for x-raying and hand inspecting gear. Multiple venues and many trips to the Main Press Center each day were always delayed by long waits in security. In Beijing, the system was set up so most photographers would pass through security screening when leaving their housing in the morning. Once cleared and on the bus to the Main Press Center, if the photographer stayed inside the "clean zone" and rode the media buses to venues, no more security checks. Brilliant.

One characteristic of the Beijing Olympics was the very organized and sometimes over-thought planning at venues. Most venue photo managers were eager to be helpful and nice but others followed their game plan strictly by the book at times. If there were ten photo spots marked for the head on finish line photo positions at the BMX venue, then no more photographers would be allowed in even if there was room for twenty-five or more. The same was true for many medals ceremonies. At the men's indoor volleyball finals, only eight photographers were allowed on the open sidelines of the court facing the medals presentation following the USA-Brazil gold medal game. Fifty photographers could have easily worked the sidelines without notice from the athletes, fans or TV.

Another interesting venue management item was the need to fill out an "application for remote camera" form before placing any remote camera at any venue. Each time I sought to place a remote, it was always politely explained to me that this needed to be done 24 hours in advance of the game I was there to shoot. Luckily, I would just fill out the paperwork and the venue photo manager would sign and never really enforced the 24-hour rule. Some photo mangers would inspect the camera location near or on the field of play and give final approval. Once at a USA men's baseball game, a Pocket Wizard and foot switch were declared to be "too dangerous". After a bit of debate, the danger passed.

Spending the extra time getting the official approvals and setting up remotes at different venues would have been truly gratifying if getting the remotes to fire with my set of MultiMax Pocket Wizards would have been consistent. Usually, it was just an endeavor of frustration. Personally, I was having poor results just getting the cameras to fire at distances of 35-50 feet with a clear line of sight between the Pocket Wizards. Important races like the men's and women's 100-meter finals, men's baseball, women's softball, and women's gold medal soccer all ended with empty cards in the camera and no frames shot.

Finally at the women's USA-Japan semi-final soccer match, frustrated with the performance of the Pocket Wizards, I was going to try something different. I would let the Pocket Wizards dictate where I shot the game. I would position myself in a spot as close to the back of the net and the remote camera that would allow the Pocket Wizards to fire. I ended up just about 35 feet off to the side of the net. This wasn't a great vantage point to shoot game action but there was another USA TODAY photographer also shooting this game and I could take a few chances.

Just a few feet left of the goal and fingers crossed, the Pocket Wizards were firing for once.

Not great action from the USA-Japan semi-final game but finally after quite a few failures, a remote success story. See the entire sequence here:
http://www.sportsshooter.com/special_feature/misc/gruber-oly08.html

My favorite image from Beijing was, like from past Olympics, from an early qualifying match in a sport very much off the radar and prime time TV. This time it was table tennis. Widely popular in China, the early rounds of the tournament were played to packed crowds. Chinese Taipei's Chih-Yuan Chuan celebrated after defeating Korea's Seung Min Ryu during a heated battle early in the men's team table tennis seeding rounds. To me, this image is what the Olympics are truly all about.

Favorite Olympic Moment: Sitting in a photo position poolside just after Michael Phelps swam to another gold medal. While transmitting deadline photos with iChat up and running, my wife and 4-month old baby Maddie pop up on iChat via a video chat. For a few seconds, something else was much more important than the Olympics and Michael Phelps quest for eight Beijing Olympic gold medals.

Related Links:
Jack's member page

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