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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2010-03-15

Tales of Olympic 'Lone Gunmen.'
Robert Hanashiro asked SportsShooter.com members to recount their experiences working solo at the Vancouver Winter Games.

By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by John Leyba / Denver Post

Photo by John Leyba / Denver Post

USA's Lindsey Vonn screams out after she crosses the fininsh line during Alpine Skiing Ladies Downhill Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at Whistler Creekside.
It's almost a cliché. Covering an Olympics is not a sprint but a marathon. And nothing better describes the photographers covering the world's biggest sports event alone.

While the wire services and large agencies have dozens of editors, techs and support personnel backing up their photographers - most assigned to a single sport or venue - the "Lone Gunmen" are on their own, save for late night emails and text messages from editors thousands of miles back home.

The "Lone Gunmen's" best friend is usually the transportation schedule. They spend a lot of time sitting on Olympic buses, editing images, looking at schedules, talking on the phone to reporters or columnist and usually catnapping. Days start early - like a 6am bus up to Cypress Mountain or the dreaded 2 - hour ride to Whistler. And they can end pretty late - pulling a remote out of the catwalk at hockey was often at 12:30am.

After the end of the first three or four days, the "Lone Gunmen" have formed a sort of collective, comparing notes on where the best photo will be made tomorrow, asking fellow Gunman to "drop a bag for me" at a big hockey game to hold a photo position and mostly commiserating on the long hours, missed opportunities and lack of appreciation from the folks back home (often not true).

The "Lone Gunman" has to pick his spots. The first thing they realize if it's their first Olympic Experience is "Shit, I can't be EVERYWHERE!" Decisions on what's the story of the day and what will make the best photo of the day - not necessarily the same thing - is often an exercise in futility and ends up an exercise in Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

"Do I go up to Whistler for Bode Miller? (Killing over half a day) - or do I stay in Vancouver and get "Speedo-Skato" (long track speed skating) in the morning and "Shorty" (short track) at 4:00pm?"

There is no right or wrong answer. You can't guess that Miller will medal and Apolo Ono will crash.

That is the plight of the Olympic "Lone Gunmen".

Life can be a bitch.

But in the end they all love it.

(Robert Hanashiro is a staff photographer with USA TODAY. The Vancouver Olympic Games were his 12th for the Nation's Newspaper. He has never worked as a "Lone Gunman" at the Olympics - but secretly wishes he had. At least once. Hanashiro is also the founder of Sports Shooter and the Sports Shooter Academy workshops.)



"What an awesome adventure for a lone shooter, always second guessing yourself on what to shoot."
By John Leyba, The Denver Post

Ahh, the 2010 Winter Olympics. What a long and grueling 18 days in Vancouver. Don't get me wrong, but being a Lone Soldier for the paper isn't what it's all cracked up to be.

"Wow, you're going to the Olympics? Lucky You!"

Yeah lucky me. By myself, 18 days. Early mornings, late nights.

Yes I did find myself to be lucky, lucky to be amongst some of the best shooters in the country. You never stop learning and by watching other great shooters you always come out of it learning something new.

Photo by Paul Kitagaki Jr.

Photo by Paul Kitagaki Jr.

Friends hanging out in Vancouver. From left: John Leyba, Wally Skalij, Paul Kitagaki Jr. and Nhat Meyer.
What an awesome adventure for a lone shooter, always second-guessing yourself on what to shoot. Always asking the other lone shooters, and there were many, what they are shooting. "I'm going to Whistler for Alpine" or "I'm going to Cyprus". You think to yourself, am I covering the right event? You always second guess but in the long run, you've made the right choice of events to cover.

I would try to do at least two events a day if possible but most of time it was one event due to time constraints and having to get to the event a few hours prior to the start just to get a shooting position. I always talked with my editor back at the paper every morning or prior that evening and we both would look at the schedule to figure out what would be on events for that day.

Some days for me were getting up at 4:30 AM not all days but a few, packing up gear, backpack with computer, roller bag stuffed with camera gear, lenses, rain gear and rain jacket for the elements. Bus from the hotel to the subway, subway to the MPC, bus to an event. 18 days of that. I could do it in my sleep and sometimes I think I did do it in my sleep.

Some decisions were made by what other photographers were shooting. But there are some events that were no-brainers: Lindsey Vonn Gold Medal triumph, Shaun White's halfpipe win for Gold, men's 4-man bobsled for the Gold and how could I forget, USA vs. Canada in the Gold Hockey game at Canada Hockey Place. That game was absolutely the best event I have ever covered. What an awesome game.

The things I don't miss though are the early mornings to catch a bus to Whistler Mountain for Alpine, the weather always played a big part. It could be really nice down in Vancouver but the mountain had different ideas. Poor visibility made it impossible for the skiers to make their runs.

Standing on the photo platform with a hoard of other photographers just wondering if it was going to happen or not. "Attention, the event has been postponed due to weather" there we are maybe 4 of us packing up gear, hustling of the photo platform, walking through mud and slushy snow, to catch a bus for the 2 hour ride back to Vancouver, hoping to get to an event in the evening to shoot, had to get something back to the paper. Pressure? No pressure. It all worked out for the most part.

Deadlines were another issue for some lone shooters. I had a one hour difference for my paper so it wasn't too much of a problem hitting them. I could get something back to the paper as late as 10:30 PM and it would make the paper.

I have total respect for what Nuccio DiNuzzo of the Chicago Tribune did for the 18 days. Deadlines were tough for him, two hours difference. Every time I saw him he was transmitting. Another thing, he walks fast too! I couldn't keep up with him as we walked out of the Hockey place to catch a taxi to the figure skating venue. We did that many times. It was fun hanging out with him.

Other shooters had it easy, having an editor on site to grab their disks to download and transmit their stuff. All they had to do was concentrate on shooting. I think the Post would have done that but with budgeting and costs to send another person just wasn't in the cards for us. I've done many assignments on my own but never like this.

It was a lot of work for a lone shooter like myself. It was very challenging but very rewarding too. What a cool job we all have!


(John Leyba is a staff photographer at The Denver Post. You can see his member page here: http://www.sportsshooter.com/leyba)

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