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|| News Item: Posted 2008-09-04

Olympic Moments: Scott Strazzante
'Nice to meet you, Chicago Tribune. No problem.'

By Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune

Photo by Scott Strazzante / Chicago Tribune

Photo by Scott Strazzante / Chicago Tribune

USA's Michael Phleps wins Men's 200m IM swimming finals at the National Aquatics Center during the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China on Friday, August 15, 2008.
The making of my favorite image at the Beijing Olympics came about for two reasons - the first was a wonderful photo by New York Times' Doug Mills and the second was a broken lens.

On July 13th, Michael Phelps went for his 5th gold medal of the Games as part of the USA's 4x200 freestyle relay team. Occurring simultaneously across the street from the National Aquatics Center was the women's gymnastics team final. I had to shoot both.
Since the Phelps' race was a relay race, I decided to shoot it from an upper position at the end of the pool. I shared the vantage point with a handful of other shooters including Mills. The USA won the race in world record fashion and Phelps had a great reaction. I quickly transmitted the image back to Chicago and gathered my stuff to head over to gymnastics. As I was leaving, Mills and Dallas Morning News' Erich Schlegel were talking about getting into position in case Phelps went up to share the victory with his mother Debbie.

I arrived at gymnastics just in time to photograph USA's Alicia Sacramone being consoled after her poor performances allowed China to win the gold. I was pretty happy with the images I got from both events.

Later in the day, I checked out the New York Times website and saw Mills' photo of Michael Phelps and his mom spending a tender moment after gold number 5. It was fabulous.

Up to that point, I knew that Debbie Phelps was at each of her son's races but I never knew what she looked like. Now I did.

Fast-forward two days as Phelps went for gold #6 in the 200 IM. On this day, I chose the end position in a slightly elevated finish line position. I shot from this spot several times because it allowed me to line up the finishers in each race in one frame and also gave me an empty seat next to me to put my laptop as I transmitted photos back to the Tribune.

As the race neared, I noticed Debbie Phelps one row behind me about 10 seats to the right. There were no stands for Michael Phelps to climb up so I figured that he would toss his victory flowers up to his mom. Like two days earlier, I had to get over to the National Indoor Stadium this time for the women's gymnastics all-around.

This day, despite the time crunch, I decided to stay through Phelps' medals ceremony and not leave for gymnastics immediately. Phelps won his race, duh!, but had a very subdued reaction.

I sent what I had and waited for him to receive his gold. I photographed the ceremony with a 600mm and waited with a 70-200mm zoom for the flower toss.

As Phelps started his slow victory lap, posing in front of each group of photographers with his medal, I saw Debbie Phelps move down to the railing. I quickly switched my 70-200m zoom for a 17-35mm zoom. I rarely ever use this lens but earlier in the Olympics I dropped my favorite, a 35mm-70mm zoom, on the pool deck and was forced to use the wider zoom.

With the short zoom on, I slid over behind Debbie Phelps and tapped her on the arm. As she turned around, I congratulated her, introduced myself and asked if I could shoot over her shoulder. She said, "Nice to meet you, Chicago Tribune. No problem." As I stood on the seat right behind, a security guard told me that I couldn't stand on the chair. I stepped back onto the floor but the angle was no good. I asked the security guard if I could please stand there as Phelps went by and thankfully he agreed.

Seconds later, as I peered over Momma Phelps' shoulder, Michael came by and tossed his bouquet up to his mother's waiting arms. As the flowers came up, they rotated perfectly. I had my shot.

As the moment passed, I realized that of the hundreds of photographers at the race, I was the only one who saw this photo developing.

My goal at each Olympics I shoot is to make one unique image that no one else got. On August 15th, my goal was met.

Related Links:
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