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|| News Item: Posted 2002-07-02

World Cup 2002 in Korea:
It's a long way from Kansas, (or the Bay Area)

By John Todd

Photo by John Todd/Int'l Sports Images/DSA

Photo by John Todd/Int'l Sports Images/DSA

John along with his two closest Korean Swat Team agents. Sercurity was tight all around the World Cup, but never felt overbearing. These guys actually started smiling when he showed them the preview image.
Six weeks ago I got the heads up I was going to Korea to cover the mother of all futbol tournaments (that's soccer to all you gridiron fanatics). Having shot MLS for the past 6 years I jumped at the chance to photograph games where 60,000 fans stand and cheer themselves into hysteria for at least 90 minutes. I was working for International Sports Images, the official photographer for the US National team, and my new company which would deliver the images to US Soccer, Soccer America and other soccer specific magazines and web sites.

I traveled to Seoul, Korea for the first match and to pick up my credentials. Arriving at 9:30 p.m. two nights before the match, I was greeted with hot and humid conditions, taxi drivers that spoke no English, and a local cuisine that had me worried I would subsist for 3 weeks on the 6 Powerbars I had squirreled away in my bag the night before.

Luckily, I was soon to realize you could go anywhere on the planet with relatively little trouble if you have the local currency. Taxis ended up being my favorite mode of transport and turned out to not only be cheap, but the drivers were fantastically helpful. If you really got into trouble with the language, all the taxis had a translation service with a friendly English voice on the other end to soothe ones nerves when pointing and talking slowly and loudly in English did not work!

Hotels were a mixed bag of beautiful 5 star hotels and small Motels the locals use to get away from the family, if you know what I mean. The small Motels actually were cleaner and more convenient to the venues than their larger counterparts.

Photo by John Todd/Int'l Sports Images/DSA

Photo by John Todd/Int'l Sports Images/DSA

USA goalkeeper Brad Friedel makes a penalty kick save during the Korea-USA game.
Korea built 9 new stadiums to host the World Cup. Amazing structures that seated from 45-65,000 fans in comfort and style. Too bad they forgot about the 300-500 plus media they tried to jam into the media centers. A lack of table space, lack of pay phones, and only 3 Internet terminals made checking email a tremendous task. Luckily for the photo folks, the media centers were equipped with high speed broadband terminals you could connect to and send about 80 Canon 1D jpeg files for around 10 dollars. The first USA match I tried to use a regular phone line and had to wait an hour and a half to get a line, and then wait another hour and a half while I sent 30 images. It was broadband all the way after that.

My gear consisted of:
PowerBook G3
CD Burner
Canon 1D
Canon D30
400 2.8
1.4x and 2x
70-200 2.8
20-35 2.8
50 1.8
550 ex flash

I thought about bringing a film back up, but Canon was on site to fix and lend gear and I figured I could always bum a film camera. 1D's were available but everybody seemed to want one. Even some of the Nikon shooters were test driving some. Sorry Nikon. CPS was great on site and I need to send a thank you note to the staff there. They were super busy but always had a smile on their face.

Field access was workable. Not too crowded, but you had to stake your claim. Photographers were given a "pitch ticket" when arriving at the stadium which allowed that shooter down on the field depending upon his priority. This was determined by size of company, magazine, or wire service, and also whether you were from the nation that was playing that day.

Making it down to the field was a different story. One was assigned either a blue (first) green (second) or red (ticket), which was worn on the photo jersey (red or blue color), which you were issued with your credential. Red jerseys on one side of the field and blue on the other. No switching sides at half. You get stuck with one side the whole game unless you can find a photographer to switch jerseys with. The only problem with this was that you were responsible for that photographer's actions while he wore your jersey.

Photo by John Todd/Int'l Sports Images/DSA

Photo by John Todd/Int'l Sports Images/DSA

Germany's Michael Ballack, left, celebrates after beating Toney Sanneh, right, on a header to score in Ulsan, S. Korea on June 21, 2002. Germany defeated the U.S. 1-0 to advance.
At least two hours before the game the blue tickets line up in the media center and are let loose by the media director to run to the field. I have never seen so many out of shape photographers humping 70-pound packs run so fast! Most needed a cigarette afterwards just to catch their breath!

The Word Cup was a smoke free zone but someone forgot to tell the European shooters. I inhaled so much second hand smoke at the games; I started getting the shakes when I was away from the venue. Next come the green tickets, then the reds. This was the crucial time to be on the field, as you needed to protect your spot against the encroaching reds. More than one shooter had his geared moved or chair stolen when he was away.

The next "Running of the Bulls" occurred when lining up for the team photo. Photographers would gather at the end lines about 1/2 hr before match time. A rope would be dropped and the stampede would occur. My boss for the tournament J. Brett Whitesell told me that perfectly normal people turned into stark raving lunatics at this point. He was not far off the mark. I didn't see anyone trampled, but I did get cursed at in Italian and also saw a 400 2.8 take a nosedive off a platform during the melee.

Sight lines at the games were standard positions behind the goals and also up to the 16-yard mark on the sides opposite the teams. I liked this position the best as you could photograph the goalie as well as headers and passes crossed into the box. An important strategy I realized after the first game against Portugal was to find a spot under or as near as possible to the country's supporters group. More often than not, players would turn towards these areas after scoring and celebrate. Made for great jube. They would also come over to these areas to celebrate with the fans after winning the game. So if you missed a goal on the other side of the field, you still had a chance of making some nice celebration shots after the game.

Noticed almost everyone shooting digital. Even some magazine shooters I thought would be shooting film. Still saw a small amount of film but was amazed at the lack of activity at the Fuji processing center.

Lighting was very nice at times, although I never saw the field completely lit by sunshine. If a day game, most ended up half in shade and half in light due to the tight roofs on the stadiums in Korea. Night games were about 500 3.2 @800 digital. Some stadiums had great light and some I could never balance quite right.

Photo by John Todd/Int'l Sports Images/DSA

Photo by John Todd/Int'l Sports Images/DSA

Landon Donovan gets sandwiched between two Polish players during the USA's 3-1 loss. Thought I was heading home after the match, but the Koreans saved the day with a victory over Portugal.
The Korean people were simply amazing. Everyone over there had there own story to tell on the incredible hospitality of the Koreans. More than once I was approached by the locals on the street and asked to dinner, which you were never allowed to pay for. Standing by the side of the road waiting for a taxi to the USA-Germany match, two Korean workman swerved across traffic, jumped out of their van, grabbed all my gear and drove me to the stadium, all the while never understanding a word of English. True Korean hospitality.

All in all a great shoot. Part of me wishes I was still there Sunday morning shooting the USA in the Final, and another part of me is glad to be writing this article at home. I got up at 5:30 this morning to catch the last part of the Korea-Germany match on TV. Saw a bunch of photographers I was rubbing elbows with just a couple of days ago. Felt a pang of regret, but also gratitude for getting the chance to be there.

(John Todd has been the team photographer for the San Jose Earthquakes for the past 6 years. He recently started with Chris Kelly, Team Photographer for the Carolina Courage, of the WUSA, to deliver sports images to clients around the country. John can be reached via email: This is Todd's first article for Sports Shooter.)

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