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|| News Item: Posted 2002-03-01

Let's Talk Business: The Olympics and Life's Perspective
By Rick Rickman

Photo by
I normally write about the business of photography and I've found over the years that this subject often encompasses a wide range of issues. This issue's article is an example of how far afield this business can take us.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to shoot the Winter Olympic games in Salt Lake City by Newsweek magazine. I'm always pleased to be part of this incredibly talented team because they are great people, well organized, and expect the most from everyone that works for the team.

It's always very important that each member of this team is well prepared and capable of covering a wide array of sporting events. We're a small group (4 photographers) and we work hard.

This year for the first time in my 23-year career my wife, who has always been very supportive, was angry with me for being away. She was so angry with me that she hung up on me when I tried to call her.

My relationship with my wife has always been the most important thing in the world to me and because she was upset with me I really wasn't operating to the best of my abilities in Salt Lake. I was perpetually preoccupied by thoughts about her and what I had done. I wasn't sleeping well and not really focusing effectively on aspects of my work.

Photo by Rick Rickman/Newsport

Photo by Rick Rickman/Newsport
The Olympics is always one of those assignments that bring together the best and worst experiences of your life. This happens because there is always so much riding on your performance day to day. There are no off hours. When you're assigned to an Olympics, every time you step out the door it's to cover an incredible competition participated in by the very best athletes in the world in that particular sport.

Covering a Winter Olympics is like covering 17 consecutive Super Bowls. It's like covering 17 consecutive NBA finals. It's actually like nothing else you'll ever cover because of the physical and emotional demands it places on the photographers.

Anyway, I had the classic worst/best Olympic experience in Salt Lake, because of my preoccupation with my family trouble, my early sleep depravation and just general stress issues.

The Olympic Downhill course was probably the most difficult course since the Olympics in Albertville, France. It was a treacherous, physically demanding, scary place to work. The course was so steep in places that it was difficult to stand even with crampons on your feet.

For those of you who don't know, crampons are spiked plates that are worn on the bottom of your ski boot or working boots to keep you in place in dangerously icy places. Crampons are the footwear of choice for the lunatics who do ice climbing. The pointy spikes dig in deep into the ice about 2-3 inches providing important stable footing. Needless to say crampons where a necessity on this downhill course.

Because of the danger of the course the ski racing officials decided that only 40 photographers were going to be allowed on the racecourse. To enforce that rule 40 photographers, including me, were given these Day-Glo green armbands to wear. We were told that we had to have those arm bands with us to cover this event or we would be allowed on course.

Well, on the first day of the women's downhill I was overly tired, running a little late and preoccupied by not speaking with my wife now for 2 weeks. I had to cover 3 events that day so I had my gear carefully arranged into two backpacks. One pack contained all my short lens needs for the evening events and the other pack contained all the longs glass needs for the mountain as well as my crampons and all-important green armband.

Two other photographers had asked me for a ride up the mountain that day so in the stressed hustle of the moment and personal fog I some how forgot to bring the most important backpack to the car. I didn't realize my mistake until we arrived on the mountain, an hour's drive from the hotel where all the gear was waiting patiently on the bed where I had left it!

Photo by Rick Rickman/Newsport

Photo by Rick Rickman/Newsport
Many of you who know me know that I'm not usually prone to panic. However, I was now on the threshold of totally loosing it. I would never be able to get down the mountain and back in time to cover the race and I had no gear to cover the race.

This truly was one of the worst moments of my life and I began to think that I would never be able to explain my stupidity to the people at Newsweek. There was absolutely nothing I could think of that was worse than this.

The truly wonderful thing about tragically stupid situations is that sometimes we find out wonderful things about our friends and ourselves. In this case, I learned that I know some of the finest, caring, selfless people in this business and can say that some of these people are my friends.

When I entered the day lodge at Snow Basin, Jeff Haynes from AFP, came to my rescue. I told him of my stupidity and he just smiled and said that I wasn't the first to have this happen and I certainly wouldn't be the last. Jeff told me that he wasn't going up the mountain that day and I could use his green armband. I thanked him and proceeded to rush up the mountain.

I brought a camera, my backpack and went to a spot that I knew would provide good images. When I arrived at the spot, I found 14 other photographers including Michael Madrid who was editing for USA Today. This spot on the mountain was one of those very difficult positions that really required crampons to be safe. Anyway, Michael has taken a position off course in some soft snow. I was slipping around in a very unstable manner and Michael graciously offered me his crampons to use while I was on course. It probably kept me form injuring myself or someone else.

That same day at the same place on the mountain two other photographers lost footing and fell down the mountain. One photographer broke a leg and his pelvis and the other photographer sustained a concussion in his fall. These photographers made the mistake of not having crampons on this mountain. Thanks to Michael Madrid I was spared such an outcome.

One very nice and selfless French photographer offered me his 400mm 2.8 to shoot with. Unfortunately, I don't have this fellow's name and feel so stupid for not writing it down. Anyway without his help I would not have been able to shoot that day. He knows who he is and I know his generosity will be repaid.

Finally, I realized that I didn't have any digital cards to shoot with and it was only minutes before the race was originally scheduled to begin. Erich Schlegel from the Dallas Morning News came to the rescue with an offer of 2 - 256 meg cards for me to use.

I realized that there truly are some fine people in this business and I'm fortunate to be able to know many of this business' truly fine and caring photographers. Guys like Jeff, Michael, Eric and the unnamed Frenchman really make me appreciate the fact that there are really fine people in this profession that make associating with a pleasure well beyond just appreciating their fine talent.

This was one of those reaffirming an experience that was truly a great moment. To know that people care enough for you to share their equipment with you and to keep you from failing or injuring yourself is enough to choke you up. I just wanted to thank these guys for their help and selflessness. It meant a great deal to me.

The irony of the situation was that ultimately the race was cancelled and I was given a reprieve. The next day I had the chance to do the day over and this time I was successful from a standpoint of preparedness. I was also successful from the image standpoint as well. I know that it was in part due to the fact that some very dear friends help bring me back to Earth and lower my stress levels. I'm a fortunate guy to have such good friends.

Now if I can find a way to convince my wife that I'm really not such a bad guy I will truly be happy. If any of you have any advice in that arena don't hesitate to let me know your thoughts. I think I'll need a lot of help in that regard.

(Rick Rickman is a freelance photographer based in Southern California.)


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