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|| News Item: Posted 2008-09-04

Olympic Moments: George Bridges
'Just a minute or two after I snapped this image police vans began working across the plaza to clear the crowd.'

By George Bridges, McClatchy-Tribune Photo Service

Photo by George Bridges / MCT

Photo by George Bridges / MCT
Guard at Tian'anmen Square
For me the Olympic experience is more than just the sports but the destination city as well. This goes for just about any road assignment. I grew up in Georgia so the Final Four or Super Bowl in Atlanta is really just about the event. But the Super Bowls in New Orleans and San Diego and Olympics in Athens and Beijing offered the chance to see a new city and in the case of the Olympics to see unique cultures as well.

Seeing Beijing beyond the Olympic Green was high on my list and most of this would come before the Games began as once the Opening Ceremony happens it's constant 14-plus hour days with little besides the sports to see.

Two nights before the Games started the McClatchy photo team assembled for a dinner and I requested that the dinner be near Tian'anmen Square as I figured that I wouldn't have a chance to get there again. So Helena Hau of the Lexington Herald-Leader, our multimedia producer, called a friend in town and arranged for dinner with a private room at a place just a couple blocks from the square. After a large meal and a couple Peking Ducks three of us headed over.

We got there not long before police closed the square for the night so we had limited time to enjoy kids running around with small kites and push past all the souvenir vendors to see the buildings and workers' memorial in the square.

I was armed only with my Canon G9 and used the manual mode and live-view of the monitor to get the silhouette exposure right on this guard standing watch over the Square. Just a minute or two after I snapped this image police vans began working across the plaza to clear the crowd. But I had this picture that grabs the eye thanks to the bright background and distinctly says China and shows the ever-present police that is part of the Beijing experience.

Michael Phelps' eighth gold
My main job for MCT and McClatchy at the Games was as photo editor and assignment editor for our team. But I was able to get out to a few events and work as the primary or secondary shooter to expand our coverage.

When Michael Phelps was going for his eighth gold medal it was the culmination of the swimming events but it was the first time I had been in the Water Cube for competition as I had visited to see the setup and check our Internet connection before the start of the Games.

But the Phelps' race would happen about an hour before midnight Eastern Time so it would be pushing deadlines in the United States. I wanted us to be able to file the race quickly while still getting the medal ceremony and the jubilation that follows it. So I headed over to shoot a second position and edit on site.

The day didn't start out too promising as I missed the 6:20 shuttle bus by less than a minute as it actually left at 6:19 so I I was stuck sitting on the next bus for 20 minutes waiting to get to the media center and then the Cube. On my way to the Cube I ran into Smiley Pool of the Houston Chronicle who is one of the most prepared Olympic shooters you can find.

I met up with the McClatchy photographer, Paul Kitagaki of the Sacramento Bee, who was debating which position to take. The way the Cube was set up for photographers there were several angles but each one of those could very easily be blocked depending on which way Phelps turned to celebrate - and it was pretty much all or nothing, you got a good shot or zero.

Photo by George Bridges / MCT

Photo by George Bridges / MCT

Michael Phelps of the United States celebrates winning gold in the 4x100 medley, Phelps' eight gold of the games, on Sunday August 17, 2008, in the Games of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing, China.
Paul opted to take a spot along the line of the starting blocks and if turned to teammates or family in the crowd the right way it would be perfect. I looked at a second pool-level position and then took a look up at a spot above the end of the pool on the opposite end of the starting blocks. I went up to investigate and when I found photographers such as Smiley, Vincent Laforet and Doug Mills choosing that spot I decided I would stake claim to my three square feet of space and not give it up.

Using a 200-400 zoom on a convert meant I had to shoot at a higher ASA but gave more range for shooting Phelps in the water as well as shots of him and his teammates celebrating and then zooming in for tighter isolation photos.

Shooting the race was some of the most nerve-wracking time I've ever experienced. If the relay team won it was history, if they lost it may have been an even bigger story - Phelps keeps his perfect games alive by 1/100 of a second and then loses in the final try. And for a while the U.S. was losing, until Phelps took them from third to first on his leg and it was clear the anchor leg would not let it go.

From my position if Phelps had acted as he did in an earlier, closer relay and bent close to the water pounding the starting block then the flags marking for the backstroke would have obstructed the view entirely. Thankfully as the anchor leg pulled away Phelps stood up and started celebrating, hugging teammates and pumping his fists in the air.

When I shot this frame I was zoomed out a bit to get Phelps with his teammates but I opted to crop it in only on him so there is some loss of image quality around the edges but I think it holds up well.

After the race I weaved through the crowd to grab Paul's disks to edit so he could continue with the medal ceremony and post jubilation. My being on site paid off as the race started shortly after 11 a.m. local time and by noon I had more than 20 images out to clients with more to come from the medal ceremony.

One event I was excited to shoot in Beijing was water polo. I had shot it in Athens and there the underwater windows made for some great angles and artsy shots.

When I went to one of the U.S. women's preliminary rounds I first planned on just skipping the above-water angles and headed straight for the underwater windows. But in Beijing the windows just weren't that strong of a position. Whether the windows were dirty or the water murky or pool lighting I don't know, but it just didn't play out. It did make for some nice, artsy shots when swimmers would return to the bench, you could get them going under the lane marker with a nice reflection above them from the water surface but it just didn't tell the story of water polo - that it's a pretty rough sport, an hour of attempted drownings.

For the second half of the U.S. game I headed to the end of pool. I took a deck-level rather than an elevated spot which makes it harder to see faces because of the splashing (and shoving heads under water). But I was able to come out with a couple keepers including this one of a U.S. defender taking down an attacker.

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