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|| News Item: Posted 2014-03-01

Dispatches from Sochi: One-Man-Band
By Robert Hanashiro,

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group

Nhat V. Meyer captures a selfie with Mark Reis, left, and Sean Haffey at the Men's Ski Halfpipe.
In another age they might have been called a “lone gunman” or a “band of gypsies.” Every Olympics has them, photographers from newspapers covering the biggest sports event on the planet…working alone, covering their hometown athletes, traveling from venue to venue, often in a group. But there is no mistaking that they are a long way from home, working alone.

Large organizations covering the Olympics assign their staff to specific sports and/or venues. For instance I was the “anchor” at long track speed skating at the Sochi Winter Olympics. I covered every individual distance race. The rationale is this allows photographers to become familiar with the sport, athletes and venue, making coverage more complete. Makes sense. But you can’t help but feel like you have tunnel vision, only seeing one sport throughout the 17 days of The Games.

The One-Man-Band often cover several events during the day, shooting for a short amount of time before moving on to the next venue and the next sport. This makes for long days and lots of time on buses (and in the Mountain Cluster in Sochi, gondolas). It is not unusual to spend 4 or more hours a day on Olympic transportation getting to and from housing to the Main Press Center and to whatever venues are on their schedule for the day.

It’s a great way to see the Olympics… but not great on getting a lot of sleep.

One late afternoon the second week in Sochi, I spotted Sean Haffey from the San Diego Union at the MPC. When I asked why he was there. He said that events on “the mountain” had been cancelled for the day due to fog… after probably waking up at 5 a.m. to catch a bus at 6 for the mountain …basically wasting time he could have used covering something else for his paper.

There is a delicate balance the One-Man-Band has to practice everyday: Getting photographs of their locals but also getting to the big events of the day. Nhat Meyer was at long track one evening and sprinted off after 45 minutes after the American skaters competed, heading off to catch a shuttle bus to catch the last part of figure skating.

While the One-Man-Band are the only photographer from their paper at the Olympics, they often travel in pairs or small groups, supporting each other, offering sounding boards for ideas and a sympathetic ear.

I asked several One-Man-Band shooters to write about their experiences in Sochi and about working solo.

Photo by Carlos Gonzalez, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Photo by Carlos Gonzalez, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“With so many events happening simultaneously I have to remind myself that I can’t be everywhere.”

Working as a one-man band at the Olympics for The Star Tribune my main focus is covering local Minnesota athletes. There are about 27 athletes competing in various events with some sort of Minnesota tie.

I’m shooting 2-3 events a day depending on location and times. We had an initial coverage plan made before the Olympics began. As the games have gone on and our Minnesota athletes’ events have ended or they have dropped out we have changed our coverage.

We have two reporters in Sochi and a decision is made the night before or even day of with emails to them and the picture / sports desk back in Minneapolis on where I should be that day. With so many events happening simultaneously I have to remind myself that I can’t be everywhere at once.

I have been inside the Olympic bubble so I haven’t had a chance to even see the city of Sochi. There has been much talk about the housing. Aside from my elevator being out a couple of times and having to lug my gear up 5 flights of stairs I have no complaints. I have a bed, hot water and even a shower curtain. I don’t spend much time there, so I’m all-good.
My overall experience in Sochi has been a good one. Covering the Olympics is a privilege and I’ve really enjoyed meeting and working next to the best sports photographers in the world.

(You can see some of Carlos Gonzalez’ work from the Sochi Olympic Games at the Minneapolis Star website:

Photo by Mark Reis, Colorado Springs Gazette

Photo by Mark Reis, Colorado Springs Gazette

Fireworks explode over Fisht Olympic Stadium and the Olympic Cauldron Friday night, February 7, 2014, at the conclusion of the Opening Ceremony for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.
Colorado Springs Gazette

“I absolutely love being a “One-Man-Band” but have to say that the moniker is a misnomer.”

I’m thrilled to be back at The Games as part of a dwindling cadre of US newspaper photojournalists staffing The Olympics. After missing out on Vancouver and London I thought my “Games number” was frozen at seven but then new ownership of The Gazette brought a renewed commitment to covering the Olympic movement.

I absolutely love being a “One Man Band” but have to say that the moniker is a misnomer. Any success I have is thanks to “The Band” that I get to be a part of at every Olympics. I’m talking about a talented and generous group of people that I’ve gotten to know over the years that make me better than I am.

For the Sochi Games “The Band” includes venue photo managers, volunteers, and some of the best people in the industry like Paul Kitagaki, Sean Haffey, Aaron Ontiveroz, Erich Schlegel, Harry Walker, Brad Smith, Bob Martin, Doug Mills, David McIntyre, Daniel Anderson, Robert Hanashiro, Jack Gruber, Nhat Meyer, Ron Taniwaki and Mark Kettenhofen. Many others such as Smiley Pool, Dave Black, Helen Davis, John Leyba, Amy Sancetta and Jay Hu are being missed terribly here. My apologies to those I’ve forgotten to mention but chalk it up to lack of sleep.

Atlanta was my first Olympics and I went there with a credential and the attitude that I must be something special. I failed quite spectacularly and I think it was because I learned too late the value of surrounding yourself with people who will support you and push you to be better. Every day there tons of ways to get your butt kicked by The Olympics and you need colleagues that have your back. It could be the loan of a lens, a photo position saved at a venue or simply a word of support.

Sometimes it’s merely a conversation that gets you thinking of a way to do your job better. At Opening Ceremony in Sochi Sean Haffey from San Diego was thinking out loud about bailing out of the stadium before the end of the ceremony to get fireworks photos outside. We teamed up to sprint from the stadium and found great positions for each of us to get photos. I pressed the shutter and composed my own photo but Sean deserves a credit line for that photo.

The fact is just about every photo shot at any Olympic Games should have multiple credits. In Beijing eight of us teamed up to set multiple remotes outside the stadium for must-have fireworks photos. Most of us had tickets inside the stadium so we needed to team up for outside photos. We set our own remotes and composed our own shots and Jay Hu stayed outside (no ticket for Opening Ceremony) and fired all of our remotes. Throughout the day, though, all eight of us took turns over a 12-hour period guarding the remote gear.

I covered my first Super Bowl in 1987 and until the Atlanta Olympics that Super Bowl was one of the toughest gigs I’d ever had. Covering an Olympics, though, is like covering two Super Bowls a day for 17 days. You’ve got to do a lot of preparation and research and you’ll need a daily plan before even leaving for The Games. Also, every night you’ll adjust the next day’s schedule depending on what stories are developing.

The days are brutal and you find out just how little sleep you can function on. Generally we finish editing and sending each night at 2am. It’s then a 1-2 hour trip back to your media housing for a few hours sleep before getting up at 7am to get to a venue early for a good position. We’re at the Olympics and we all want to get to as much as we can.

Who’s going to take a day off when there are so many great stories and photos out there every day? The Olympic photo motto is, “You can sleep when you’re dead.” Two events a day is the norm at the Winter Games but occasionally you can sneak in a third event if the stars align. Feeling sorry for us? Don’t, because we’re at the Olympic Games, baby, and what’s better than that!

Support has taken a new meaning for me at these Games. On my second day in Russia doctors discovered that my dad has two inoperable brain tumors. His health is declining but he insists that I stay in Russia. Of course he’s proud of his son and I know that he loves to share my work. My wife, Wendy and sister, Paula, are now helping my parents and making it possible for me to stay in Sochi. The love and support I’m getting here means that those I once called colleagues I now call friends.

(You can see some of Mark Reis’ work from the Sochi Olympic Games at the Colorado Springs Gazette website: )

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group

Canada's Noah Bowman warms-up before his first run for the finals of the Men's Ski Halfpipe at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
San Jose Mercury News

“I’ve been averaging 4 hours of sleep a night, 6 to 7 hours on buses.”

I’m here with Olympic reporter Elliott Almond and columnist Mark Purdy from the San Jose Mercury News.

What I do here is mainly based on our “locals.” Locals is a little bit of a loose term, it doesn’t mean they have to be from or live in San Jose proper, we’re talking about basically Northern California. For example, we have a bobsled driver who grew up in Monterey and lives in New York now, Nick Cunningham, so I’ll be doing bobsledding, we have a young figure skater from San Jose, Polina Edmuds, two San Jose Sharks players on the Canadian hockey team, one on the USA team, etc.

We make decisions with the help of our Olympics editor, Mark Conely, based in San Jose (communicating via email mostly) and the three of us negotiate what to do each day.

Sometimes we hedge our bets on what is going to be the big story of the day with which local. Sometimes we are right, sometimes we are wrong. And sometimes we prioritize - pretty much no event will trump us covering the 15-year-old figure skater from San Jose - even though she is unlikely to medal she is still a great story.

I’ve averaged two assignments a day. That doesn’t sound bad right? Well unfortunately typically one of those is in the mountains and one in the Olympic Park – that’s a minimum of 2 to 2 1/2 hour bus rides – yes rides.

To get to the Alpine Center from my hotel, down by the coast, it takes four buses. Nine of the first 11 days I went to the mountains and if I wasn’t shooting several assignments up there then I would come back down to the city and shoot something, that means typically 18-to 21-hour-days. I’ve been averaging 4 hours of sleep a night, 6 to 7 hours on buses the rest of the time is spent walking, waiting, hiking, talking, negotiating and yes eventually even some shooting.

Many events are scheduled at the same time or so close that if you went to one you’d be late to another (and arriving late means possibly a poor position), it’s frustrating that I can’t be at two places at once.

I do like to hangout with the other loners - bounce around to other assignments and help push each other to do more, we talk to each other to find out what they are covering, how the photo positions are, what lenses we need, how bad the food is at the venue, those kinds of things.

(You can see some of Nhat Meyer’s work from the Sochi Olympic Games at the San Jose Mercury News website: )

Photo by Chris Detrick, The Salt Lake Tribune

Photo by Chris Detrick, The Salt Lake Tribune

Noelle Pikus-Pace celebrates with her family; son Traycen, 2, daughter Lacee, 6, husband Janson, right, and her brother Jared Pikus, left, after winning the silver medal in the women's skeleton competition.
Salt Lake Tribune

“My main challenge was to make unique, story-telling images of Utah athletes.”

During the Olympics, I would normally cover two events every day. With nearly 70 athletes who live at least part-time in Utah ---15 who won medals --- I was very busy trying to photograph as many local athletes as possible.

Several of the days there were conflicting events and my editors and I would decide what to cover based on which one of our athletes was more likely to win a medal, or who was the better story.

Women’s ski jumping made its debut here in Sochi, and we had three women competing from Park City--two of whom (Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome) were instrumental in getting the sport into the Olympics. For such a historic event, I spent the entire day at the venue, trying to cover it from as many different angles as possible.

Even though our local women didn't win medals, it was a great experience to photograph the first Olympic women's ski jump.

For me, the experience in Sochi was positive. Coming from Utah, I felt at home shooting the various sports up in the mountains.

My main challenge was to make unique, story-telling images of Utah athletes that were different from the wire service photographers. Overall, I am proud of the work my colleagues and I produced for The Salt Lake Tribune.

I think we were able to provide the readers with exceptional coverage of our athletes, in a way that was not provided by other media outlets.

(You can see some of Chris Detrick’s work from the Sochi Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Tribune’s website: )

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