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

Olympic Moments: David Burnett
'You are gifted the chance to work amongst the best.'

By David Burnett, Contact Press Images

Photo by David Burnett / Contact Press Images

Photo by David Burnett / Contact Press Images

David Burnett at the Main Press Center in Bejing at 3:50am on August 11, waiting for a bus which never came.
Either I'm getting old, or things are changing. Well.. OK, I AM getting old, but things do change, as well. Maybe it isn't change, maybe it's just a heightened state of awareness: but the Olympics, my friends, kick your butt. I can remember when I started out in this business, a friend who always invoked the soul and power of John Zimmerman - one of THE great Sports photographers ever - who passed away in 2002, every time he spoke about truly putting themselves into their work.

When John worked 20- hour days to make a picture, he really worked 20-hour days. There was, in his view of things, always something else to do to make that picture just a little better. He was always looking to invoke that phrase ".... I had a better frame..."

Most of us are pretty good at making a long day SOUND like 20 hours, but let's face it, it's rare enough. Not at the Olympics. For reasons I still don't really fathom, a 20-hour day is pretty normal at the O's. Well, when I try and sort it out, yeah, I get it. Transportation. Security checks. Looking at the Info system to be reminded of which events are for today (no, volleyball is TOMORROW morning!). Grabbing a bite to eat (usually in haste, usually something underwhelming.) Editing, editing, editing. The new killer drug of photographers. Just when you thought you might actually survive doing three or four events in a day, you remember you need to actually edit that material.

Ughsville.

You can use all the fancy stuff you want -- but it's not going to be an early night. Back from the pool at 11pm. Maybe midnight by the time you walk back. Set up the computer. Ingest. Ingest. Ingest. Label. And then, face the day's work. If you're lucky, you might finish by 1 or 2 a.m. But the Kodak pressroom was always busy until at least 2. Then you had to walk out to the transport mall where all the hotel/village buses lurked. Hope one hadn't just left, and get a ride home. You'll probably fall asleep on the bus. Wake up as they turn into the driveway. Then ask the golf cart guy, could he please run you to your building (500 yards away). You walk in about 2:30, set the gear down, make a cup of tea, and realize you have to charge the camera batteries, charge your phone, take some kind of packaged vitamin-y thing, SKYPE a call home (where its early afternoon..) then hop into bed for a whole 3 or 4 hours. Hey, I'm not complaining, but when your pals harass you about having such a great time at the Olympic Games, you need to remind them that yes, it's great, it's historic, it's the best, but it's also a killah.

Photo by David Burnett / Contact Press Images

Photo by David Burnett / Contact Press Images

2008 Summer Olympic Women's Field Hockey preliminary matches: Korea vs The Netherlands, held at the Olympic Green Hockey Stadium.
Did I mention sore necks and shoulders? Big time. I was busy schlepping a pair of 5D's, 5 lenses, and a Speed Graphic with a bunch of film holders. Maybe I am crazy (I probably am) but that was how I wanted to try and treat the games. Yet I rest in amazement at seeing virtually everyone else humping 400 and 600s like they were badminton racquets. (Note to self: Badminton is a GREAT game to photograph -- fast, exciting, full of amazing athleticism.. ask to cover it next time.) How do we carry all this stuff and still make it back to bed without a crushed disc or two? As someone who had a spinal fusion early in life (a hockey accident -- he was bigger than I was) I'm quite aware of the vagaries of the spinal column. And between seeing people with two D3s and glass around their necks (bad idea) and humping a pair of big lenses, I cringe at what will be the eventual outcome in favor of orthopedic surgeons.

But we keep going back and going back, and why? Because though we might try and just call it "another track meet," we all know it is so much more. The best of the best, at their best. And it makes us try and meet that level of performance too. Walking through the Kodak work area at night, looking over the shoulder of the best photographers in the world (and let's face it, where else do this many great photographers all hang out in one room? Nowhere!) you see amazing pictures.

Too often from people who were standing right next to you at, say, fencing. They saw what you missed. Humbling. Exciting. Wonderful. To be surrounded by all this talent, all these great people. That is what really makes the Olympics special. You are gifted the chance to work amongst the best. There is no incentive like it. And while you emerge tired and ticked from being told what you cannot do for three weeks, the energy you take away keeps you rockin' for another four years. It's that good.

Related Links:
Burnett's member page

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