Olympic Sized Challenges

Checking photo positions for the Olympics. Photo by David Breslauer

Checking photo positions for the Olympics.

While watching the opening ceremony of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, I was reminded of the challenges faced during my tenure as the Photo Chief for the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. Once the games start, it always looks good on television and in pictures. But a lot of behind the scenes work goes into making sure the “look of the games” (banners with logos, colors) is apparent in every photo and video clip.

As Photo Chief, I was responsible for the logistical arrangements for the 550 accredited photographers. It is amazing the new friends that found me because they thought I could help them get a “press pass” for the Olympics. Fortunately for me, the rules governing credentials are clearly defined, and are handled by each country’s national organizing committee. For the United States, press credentials are the responsibility of the United States Olympic Committee. That sure made it easier when a local governmental official sought me out for credentials.

I spoke with Nick Didlick, the Photo Chief in Vancouver, recently to wish him luck. We joked that if he had done his job well in getting things set up, he might actually be able to go out and inspect his handiwork first hand. I know I was actually able to take in some events, and inspect on-site how our planning had actually been implemented. Nick was telling me that at one of his venues, he was having a problem with the placement of some television cameras. I laughed, it was at the same venue I had similar problems in Salt Lake City. It was not until the bobsleigh venue (in both cases) had been built out for the Olympics that the broadcasters were able to see their true sight-lines. And of course, this meant moving the still photographer platforms—television pays the bills with their purchase of broadcast rights and takes priority when selecting camera positions. In my case, the still photographers ended up in better positions with the compromise we reached. I hope Nick fared as well.

Trying to anticipate problems before they become problems was my job. This meant lots of internal meetings with different groups, and of course external meetings with news organizations. During one such meeting, we took a group from Reuters to the downhill venue at Snowbasin. They wanted to see for themselves how to best use wireless technology to get their pictures down the mountain from where the photographers would be positioned. Only one problem with this meeting. There was snow on the hill, and the Reuters wireless expert, Bob Covington, did not ski. Herwig Demschar, SLOC’s Alpine Director was on hand, and promptly hoisted the Bob onto his back and skied him down the “Grizzly” course to each of the expected photo positions. Demschar had previously been a coach for American skier Picabo Street (1998’s Olympic Downhill gold medal winner) and had carried her down courses when she was injured, so she could visualize them even when she could not ski them herself.

Sometimes problems are solved on site once the venue has opened. At our cross country venue, Soldier Hollow, photographers were having a difficult time getting the right angle they wanted for their finish line pictures. After consulting with the venue chief, the photo supervisor for the venue had a pit dug at the finish for still photographers the day before the event started, putting cameras at ground level. It was such a great idea that it was used in both Torino and in Vancouver.

Nick, Good Luck, though I know luck has little to do with it. I hope you get to see some of the events. I know I will have one of the best seats in the house, in front of my television, because of all the planning that people like you put into it.

Posted by David Breslauer
Photo by David Breslauer

Leave a Reply