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|| News Item: Posted 2014-02-15

Dispatches from Sochi: All About Teamwork
USA TODAY's Robert Hanashiro says covering figure skating is all about teamwork

By Robert Hanashiro,

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan performs during the men's free skating during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Iceberg Skating Palace.
After six straight days of long track speed skating here in Sochi, Russia, I had the opportunity to cover an evening of figure skating. Obviously there are many events at the Winter Olympics, but "figs" as the veteran photographers refer to it, is one of the premium ones (along with downhill skiing).

Like sports, teamwork and preparation are important elements in covering a big event like Friday night's (Valentine’s Day!) men's long program. My colleague Bob Deutsch has covered "figs" at numerous Winter Olympics, his insight helped make my transition from shooting long track to figs easier and put me in a position to make some cool photographs.

Jeff Swinger, from the Cincinnati Inquirer, completed USA TODAY’s "Three Amigos" covering the men's long program: Swinger would be positioned in a slightly elevated spot in the "endzone" opposite the kiss & cry, while I would be in a spot higher in the press tribune at mid-ice. And Bob would man his usual ice-level spot.

I really enjoy shooting from elevated spots, though this was a bit higher than I'd usually like to be. Shooting in the "up position" is a trade off. While you don’t get the immediacy that an ice-level position gives you (like courtside in basketball and field level in football and baseball) but you get a cleaner background. In figure skating that background is the ice. Doesn’t get any cleaner than that.

The other advantage shooting from an elevated position, it’s usualyl one lens and usually long. In this case I shot with a Nikkor 200-400mm zoom, most of the time with a TC-14 converter (giving me an effective range of 280mm – 560mm). There was plenty of light, but with the converter I lost a stop so my ISO was 6400 – 8000.

Another thing about shooting from an elevated spot is looking for interesting angles and of course, incorporating logos- especially the Olympic rings. And I worked that to death during the men's long program. While other photographers around me were shooting with 400mm and 600mm lenses and then juggling to pull up shorter glass to try to capture a skater with the rings, I had the luxury of just zooming out.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Al Tielemans or Sports Illustrated and Bob Deutsch of USA TODAY shoot the men's figure skating from ice level during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Iceberg Skating Palace.
Positioning your staff around the field of play makes your life easier, but you still have to pay attention and make sure you cover your area of responsibility because in figs, in an instant a skater can fall and that could be the photograph.

As photographers we strive to capture high-impact and storytelling moments, which often is when an athlete isn’t looking their best. Case in point with figs: Everyone loves seeing on TV the spinning, hurricane-like move skaters make in mid-air. But the truth is in a still photo, a beautiful sport often becomes a mass of flying hair, contorted faces and if you’re not timing it right, more often than not getting the backs of the skater.

(With motordrives cranking frames at 10 or 11 frames-per-second you would think that "putting the hammer down" - just motoring it - you would catch a bunch of frames of the skater facing you during a jump or spin. Doesn't necessarily happen and to do it right, you have to become familiar with the sport and really use timing to capture the skater facing you in a spin.)

Second point: We want to get the falls - the mistakes. These are just a fact of sports, and sports photography. Elite athletes spend their entire lives preparing for the Olympics and in an instant, a stumble or fall could take them out of a competition.

Except maybe last night when eventual gold medal winner Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan fell twice and stumbled a few other times. Hanyu tallied a record score the previous night during the short program. But it was a bit surprising to see him hang onto the top spot with the obvious - and "photo friendly" - mistakes during his program.

I captured one of Hanyu’s falls, and Bob and The Swingman got them both- that’s teamwork!

(Robert Hanashiro is covering his 13th Olympic Games for USA TODAY. You can follow his (mis)adventures in Sochi, Russia via Instagram: and on Twitter: @SptShtr_Bert)

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