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|| News Item: Posted 2012-10-01

LONDON CALLING – (Part 2) - Miralle
My Olympic Conundrum

By Donald Miralle

Photo by Donald Miralle

Photo by Donald Miralle

Women's Marathon Final, Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 5, 2012 in London, England.
The last week of June about a month out of covering my 7th Olympic Games, I found myself seriously doubting going out to London for three weeks for multiple reasons.

First off, the Olympics are the hardest event you can cover as a sports photographer, bar none. Shooting multiple events across a major metropolitan city for 17+ hour days for 17 days straight deserves a gold medal by anyone’s standards.

Getting from point A, to point B, to C, and back to point A with 50+ lbs. of gear is hard enough; but then having to sort out your editing computer and shooting positions at every venue before you even begin to take a single frame makes for a very long and stressful day. A photographer or member of media who doesn’t go into the Olympics with a little bit of nerves due to the lead up preparation probably hasn’t covered an event like this before.

Secondly, the thought of navigating London via underground and train made me anxious and sick to my stomach, probably stemming from living and only driving in a subway-free Southern California my entire life. And with our LOCOG issued oyster cards, the underground would be the primary mode of transport and hours upon hours of my London experience would be from the inside of a subway car.

Third, the last couple years I’ve really dedicated myself to training and competing in open ocean paddleboard racing, and 2012 was looking like it was going to be my year but the dates of the London Olympics threw a wrench in this plan. I was going to miss competing in the Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard World Championships, and also miss three weeks of integral training for the Catalina Classic 32-Mile Marathon Race. I even considered shipping out a small lifeguard board to train on in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, but unfortunately it was too large check into any airline.

And finally the thought that weighed most heavily on me was of being away from my wife and two sons for three weeks and missing my eldest son’s Luke’s 7th Birthday. Part of the reason I resigned from my staff job in 2007 at Getty Images after 10 years was I wanted the ability of having more control over my schedule so I wouldn’t miss milestones and birthdays. But here I was again missing another birthday because of my job. And when you’re on the road on the other side of the world sleeping in a crappy soft hotel bed and eating dodgy food on the fly, you realize how much you take for granted and how good you have it at home.

I really believe life is all about balance and it’s amazing how my wife Lauren can get me back in the middle when I am leaning too far right or left. When I told her all of my inner conflicts with going to London, she replied by saying, “everything will be fine, we will be ok here at home, and you just have to really make the best of it so you have no regrets.” And just like that I felt better about the assignment, and was ready to take on the Herculean feat of covering another summer Olympics. Having a lifelong partner that enriches your life and helps you through the lows and enjoys the highs with you makes you realize that life is a shared experience and no man can do it alone.

Photo by Donald Miralle

Photo by Donald Miralle

Woo Young Won of Korea and coach celebrate match point winning the gold medal during the Men's Fencing Team Sabre Gold Medal Final Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 3, 2012.
And as soon as the plane skidded down in Heathrow, luckily all my doubts and fears were quickly replaced with sleep deprivation, pints and chips, and subway rides from one side of town to another. In contrast to my first four Olympics I shot for Allsport & Getty Images where I was part of a large team, my last three games shot for Newsweek I was part of a small team of photographers.

However in London I was a lone wolf covering it by myself, which made it impossible to be everywhere at once like the agencies but gave me a flexible schedule and shoot brief to cover big stories and make pretty pictures. The logistics of covering multiple venues is definitely different than those of being dedicated to one venue or sport, and each has its pros and cons.

Over the three-week period I had the opportunity to cover aquatics, archery, athletics, cycling, equestrian, fencing, judo, kayak and canoe, table tennis (a.k.a. ping pong!), triathlon, volleyball and weightlifting. It’s hard to pick out one photo or memory that stood out the most, I saw some amazing things during the games, from a legally blind man breaking the first world record of the games in archery, to Phelps swimming in his last Olympics, to being able to shoot the tennis final at Wimbledon.

LOCOG really did it right combining the sports venues with beautiful historical settings, the best since Sydney in my opinion. I will never again get to shoot beach volleyball again with the backdrop of the Horse Guards Parade in the background and after the Paralympics games are over and they tear down all the temporary structures, no one will see those views again either.

All in all the London Olympics was fantastic – the venues were amazing for photographs, and Photo Chief Bob Martin and his staff had a huge part facilitating great photo positions in the constant real estate battle with TV, who own everything at the games. Photographers were able to execute their photos in a professional and civilized manner albeit handheld steady TV cams and booms descended like flies on athletes at the finish lines ruining many photos at every venue. Media transport was a smooth as could be, and I actually knew the subway system like the back of my hand and began to enjoy using the underground and javelin. Next time I go to London I will probably never take a cab again.

Even though I lost 10 pounds and some fitness in London, and missed the Molokai to Oahu paddleboard race, I was able to compete in the Catalina Classic, placing 3rd overall with a time of 5 hours and 25 minutes, a new personal record and 30 minutes faster than the year before. Our family celebrated my son’s birthday the weekend before I left and when I returned home everyone was safe and sound and happy that I was back where I belonged. I closed another chapter of my love affair with the Olympic Games that started when I was nine years old and attended the LA Games as a spectator.

I left the UK with no regrets, with many memories and photos with other great photographers from around the world you only get to see every two years. And maybe that’s for the best as the Olympics Games is a dish best served every couple years, otherwise all the media would be too exhausted to cover it.

(Donald Miralle is a freelance photographer based in the Southern California area. You can see examples of his work and links to his personal website at his Sports Shooter member page:

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