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|| News Item: Posted 2008-08-18

A Letter Home From Beijing
Robert Hanashiro shares some experiences from his two weeks in China covering the Olympic Games.

By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Chris Detrick

Photo by Chris Detrick

USA TODAY's Robert Hanashiro and Bob Deutsch get ready to head out into the rain with the Susan Polakoff Shaw, IOC Media Operations.
Dear Emma & Deanna,

ALOHA from Beijing!

The first week of the Olympics have come and gone and I thought I'd drop you a quick note about some of what I've seen and what I've been doing.

As Jack said when we first arrived on August 3: "These are the best Olympic media accommodations I have ever seen!"

We're in a 3-bedroom apartment and it reminds me a lot of the media village in Nagano, Japan ('98 Winter Olympics) and Seoul, South Korea ('88 Summer Olympics). One thing for sure, you can put teepee down the toilet unlike the bathrooms we had in the rooms four years ago in Greece!

Oly volunteers are EVERYWHERE. There are two "doormen" in every building, all wearing large sashes like a beauty pageant contestant, except they have "WELCOME" printed on them. They all simile, are all very helpful, greet us in English and can't do enough for us.

For example: The other day Bob Deutsch and I were caught in a downpour after we had finished covering the women's gymnastics all-around final. We decided to just hoof it back to the Main Press Center ... we got about 25-yards out the door and three young volunteers came running after us carrying umbrellas to cover us.

Bob says the media village reminds him of "The Village" in the old Patrick McGoohan series "The Prisoner"... but instead of cottages, we have several high-rise apartment buildings. The food in the cafeteria is an interesting mix for breakfast. This morning I had a bowl of granola and raisin bran, an orange, bagel, sui mai (almost like the dim sum at Ocean Seafood in LA!) and braised beef short ribs.

And speaking of the volunteers ... they are by the trash bins in the cafeteria and they sort the garbage and the recyclables for us!

Usually the weakest link for us covering an Olympics is the transportation. Riding a bus is inevitable. But at this Olympics, the buses are plentiful (so far) run on time and, believe it or not, are washed daily. (I got off of a bus at the basketball venue the other day and I noticed that there was a line of them in the parking lot with about a dozen volunteers using long brushes and hoses on them.)

The buses are part transport and part Motel 6 on wheels... most of us use the 30-40 minute ride to venues to catnap.

I probably spend about 90 minutes to 2 hours a day riding a transport bus... 30 minutes from the media village to the MPC, 40-45 minutes out to basketball... and then the reverse to get back.

Cabs are an adventure… all to themselves... other than driving like maniacs, none of the taxi drivers seem speak English even though there were stories early this year about the government making an effort to teach cabbies. And sometimes even if you show them the location on a map of where you need to go and an address in Chinese... they STILL get lost. Rod Mar and I had a nice little "scenic tour" of parts of Beijing coming home from dinner the night before the opening ceremony.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Breakfast is served: Rice, baked chicken, noodles, meat stew and sauteed vegetable are on the serving line one morning at the North Star Media Village.
Traffic here reminds me of Tokyo and that's with an odd/even schedule they instituted for the Olympics. Crossing a street should be an Olympic sport, with traffic lights being more of a suggestion than an anything else. But I have yet to see a traffic accident or a pedestrian or bike rider get run into.

When I made my last visit to Beijing several years ago with the U.S. men's gymnastics team, you were more apt to be hit by a bicycle than a car. The bike lanes were FILLED back then... now it's mainly cars and not so many bikes.

The air here is nothing like you have EVER seen... The air is thick, it's humid all of the time and it's a grey haze about 90% of the time. And that's with half the cars not running and most of the coal-burning factories shut down.

But after a good rain, the air clears up and the skies and clouds are visible. After that last rain, the haze has been gone for a couple of days.

Our DOP Mick Cochran went out to dinner the other night and he tried the scorpion. He (apparently) lived to tell about it.

As you know I am a notorious emailer... and my BlackBerry has been my closest friend at this Olympics. With so much time in buses and holding photo positions (I got to the basketball venue at 11am for the 10pm USA-China basketball game on Sunday) the BlackBerry allows me to write to friends and family and stay in touch with workshop arrangements.

Physically I'm holding up. The long walks to buses and venues has been good for me... tiring mainly because of the humidity, but good except for the expected aches and pains. The lower back and hips are constantly aching.

The first few days I was the NBA... I mean... Olympic basketball photographer. The Scheduling Gods had a USA - China matchup on the first Sunday. Talk about crazy, it was about as nutty as covering the men's 100 meter final or the women's gymnastics all-around.

Covering the USA Men's National team goes something like this:
Kobe dunks
LeBron dunks
Dwight Howard dunks
Carmelo takes an elbow to the head, then he dunks
Wade checks in and then... dunks

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

NBA-style halftime entertainment during the USA men's - Angola game at the Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium.
If you're in the Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium for a game, close your eyes and then open them, you wouldn't know if you're at an NBA game in Indy or Denver or OK City... save for the necessary Olympic signage.

These games have all of the trappings... good and bad... of NBA games: The cheesy mascots doing dunks off of a trampoline, cheerleaders, standard arena music, cheerleaders, guys shooting t-shirts into the stands from slingshots, cheerleaders... everything you'd see a Lakers game except Jack Nicholson.

Well, maybe I mean a Clippers’ game.

The one funny thought I have every time I see the troupe of American cheerleaders come out and do handstands and lifted into the air by beefy guys is... Hey you guys could not carry the ballet slippers of a "D level" Chinese acrobat!

On the Nikon vs. Canon front... Nikon is being used by clearly over half of the photogs here. Nikon's goal of 33% of the Olympic photographers using their gear looks to have been accomplished. I haven't seen so much Nikon gear being used at a major event like this in years.

I've been carting around a Think Tank Airport Security every day with three Nikon bodies, 24-70, 70-200, 200-400, 1.4 and 1.7 teleconverters, SB800 speedlite, SC-17 cord, two full card wallets, Induro monopod, Think Tank fanny pack, sunscreen, USA TODAY Olympic pins, MacBook Pro (with power supply) ana a pouch with computer accessories (3 card readers, firewire hub, 160 gig portable hard drive, security cable, mouse, cords and adapters).

I'll tell you, the information and great detail that Frank Folwell, Dave McIntyre and Zach Honig provided everyone through their stories for Sports Shooter were invaluable! The power of Sports Shooter is unbelievable!

At every venue photo workroom I see laptops with on the screens or hear photographers talking about something they've read (most notably the Canon v. Nikon and Olympic blog topics). It's almost like a lifeline to home.

(Robert Hanashiro is the founder of Sports Shooter, the director of the Sports Shooter Academy and a staff photographer with USA TODAY. He is a self-proclaimed gadget junky and his garage is filled with various doodads of questionable usefulness he bought over the years, much to the chagrin of his wife and daughter.)

Related Links:
Hanashiro's member page

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