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|| News Item: Posted 2002-03-30

My Journey to the Other Side:
An Olympic recap

By Tracy Frankel

Last spring I accepted the position to be photo supervisor of Ski Jumping at the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics. I was sure of two things: I would fulfill a dream to go to the Winter Olympics and it would be the hardest job I'd ever do in my life. I was right on both counts.

As the time drew closer and after months of reading literature sent to me from SLOC, I was nervous that I hadn't memorized enough information. There was so much to know about everything. S.I. photographer and Olympic veteran Peter Read Miller kept reminding me that all that stuff wasn't important because my job would have nothing to do with the material I was being sent.

On my arrival Jan 30, I went to the Main Media Center to meet my boss David Breslauer and some of the other photo supervisors who had just gotten into town. The next day I was off to my venue.

At the media sub center I met Vince Heptig who was photo supervisor at the luge track. Vince had been working for SLOC for months and showed me around the sub center and the approved photo positions on the hill. Vince is a jolly soul and he quickly became my new best friend. I was immediately overwhelmed. "We need 24 power strips from logistics, pop fence for some of the photo positions and when did Lucent say they were coming over to install the phones?" Peter was right.

After fumbling through the first few days of putting up fencing and trying to get organized, the volunteers came. Vince and I were given about 40 local volunteers for our marshals and runners. They were all very nice people, anxious to help and looking forward to their own Olympic experience.

The volunteers would come in at 6:30 am; Vince and I would divide them up and give them a quick training lecture. Our venues never had competitions at the same time though our practices overlapped. My venue started 2 days before opening ceremony so we had a lot of photographers from the beginning.

David had explained to us about photo sleeves and various credentials and now it was time to put that information to the test. It was a disaster. Many photographers didn't have photo sleeves, my marshals did not understand anything I said and there were photographers all over the hill (at this time I'd like to thank my yoga teacher Cindy for getting me in great shape).

At the same time calls were coming in over the radio that there were photographers all over the mountain and I was getting blamed for it all. I was literally running up and down the hill escorting very rude photographers off the steps "but in Nagano" and trying to tell my marshals how to do their job. It seemed that everybody had a camera (TV crews other competitors and coaches) and I was somehow being made responsible for all of them.

The next day was a more of the same. At one point I saw 4 Austrian photographers without photo sleeves who had just crossed under the take off point (a major no-no). I went over to try and explain to them that they were not allowed to do that and, by the way, where were their sleeves?!

I was already tired of policing the impossible. Within seconds I was being yelled at and one of the men was trying to take my credential. A screaming match ensued and finally I was so freaked out I went running up the stairs on the side of the ski jump ramp. One of the field-of-play guys came up to get me after he and about 40 other members of the hill crew witnessed the scene.

As it turned, the man I was arguing with was the head of the Ski Jumping Federation! That was my initiation to the Olympics. Things could only get better.

I soon learned which of my marshals were up to speed, and which ones would never be. I positioned them accordingly. We were to ONLY marshal EP's with photo sleeves; everyone else was not our problem (although I did continue to get blamed for everything throughout the Olympics).

I was shocked at how much abuse was directed at my marshals and me. If it had been up to me the photographers could have gone wherever they liked. These positions were given to me and I often had to fight to keep the ones I had. I felt lucky enough to be able to add a few extra spots.

Photographers didn't seem to understand that I was on THEIR side. Instead, I was the bad guy. The Priority Photo Pool became a huge problem. Everyone wanted in but I think it worked out well enough rotating non-PPP's in to the PPP positions. I also made one of the volunteers my assistant.

His name was Korey, and he was a soft-spoken guy who ran the PPP under the K120 jump take-off. He even did a count down for the photographers since they couldn't tell when a jumper was coming. Everyone loved him.

As the days went by, practice days became fun. The weather was beautiful, and we'd hang out at the K120 take-off with the field of play guys (men in green) who renamed it Miami Beach. These were my true friends on the hill. They were the ones that helped me with all the troubleshooting, dug out photo positions after it snowed, brought me hot chocolate and lunch (since all we were offered was chili and hot dogs for 3 weeks) and gave me a shoulder to cry on.

I'm glad to say that in the end it all went well and everyone was so happy. We finished 3 days before Closing Ceremony. I did get to enjoy Alanis Morrisette at the medals plaza, exhibition skating (a dream fulfilled) and Opening and Closing Ceremony.

It was hard to say goodbye. Though I've been sick now for over a week with the Olympic Flu, a bug few have escaped, I can look back at the great times I had as well as the challenges. What I did learn most of all from this is pick your battles wisely and kindness counts.

Will this make me a less aggressive photographer the next time I get angry at an event? I hope so. I'll sure think twice and remember that the photographers who were nice to me got a lot more than those who were rude.

On a personal note I want to thank all my fellow photographers (new friends and old) who were so supportive, the "men in green", David Breslauer and the other Photo Supervisors who all had their own daily trials and tribulations.

I was lucky to get to know you all. Anyone have the dates for Torino?

(Tracy Frankel is a freelance photographer based in the San Diego area.)

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