Saturday, August 20, 2016

The thrill and pressure of shooting a gold medal game for USA Water Polo!

Yesterday was an amazing day for the women of USA Water Polo. They crushed the team from Italy with a final score of 12 to 5 to win the gold medal. As great as it was (and it was great!!), I thought I would tell you what it was like from my perspective as their team photographer.

I have been fighting my second cold here in Rio, and was not top of my game on Wednesday. That was the women's semi final match and I was not happy with my shots. I just seemed a little late on my shutter releases and was not in the zone.  So...I decided to forego shooting any events the night before this game. Instead, I got into the hotel and was asleep before 1:30am, which is a first. I slept in and got close to 9 hours sleep (and wow did that feel good).

The cold was a little better, but not great. Heck it is still lingering. I am writing this at the main press center now and listening to countless other press coughing as well. It is going around. Anyways, back to that day. Since the game was scheduled to start at 3:30pm, I decided to head to a nearby venue to shoot the team synchronized swimming event. This was partly because I wanted to warm up, and partly because it always makes for cool images.

I shot that from noon until 1:15pm and then headed to the press room there to write yesterday's blog post. And then I headed over to the main swimming venue to prepare for the big game. I got there about an hour early, to get mentally ready and to prep all my gear. Even though I have photographed many water polo games here in the last couple of weeks, this one was different for a couple of reasons.

1. Instead of the normal 10-15 photographers covering the games, there would be hundreds at this game. This meant that I would have to fight for a good spot.

2. Once the game was over, I would be shooting a medals ceremony and not running to the mix zone. This meant that I would need a different choice of lenses and I even brought my flash (which is allowed as long as it is not during the competition).

Once the game started, I settled into my normal shooting routine. Unlike London, I did overshoot this game, knowing that the key shots were not the game, but what happened after the game. Would it be elation from winning a gold medal or the disappointment of just walking away with a silver?

The teams were fairly evening matched for the first couple minutes of the game, with them both scoring fairly quickly.

But soon after, the US defense tightened up...

...and the offense scored 4 unanswered goals.

The crowd was really into it, and they should be. It was for the ultimate Olympic goal.

As Maggie Steffens, the team captain, said last night, water polo is like a combination of swimming, wrestling, baseball, hockey and soccer all in one. It was fun photographing the ladies wrestling in the water. This is a very physical game.

Another score...

...and more solid defense.

I got this shot of Maggie with the ball just leaving her hand. But what I like about this shot is that she almost seems to be controlling the ball with her mind more than her touch.

Her hand reminds me of "The touch" on the Sistine Chapel. Doesn't it?

Ashleigh Johnson was solid in net. I knew that if she had a great game, there was no way the US team would lose. She is just that good.

Half way through the game, it was pretty apparent that I would be shooting a USA gold medal ceremony. At this point I was starting to worry about the logistics of getting the key shots for the team. I knew that I needed the celebration photos, the medal photos and any other candids I could come up with. But I also needed to get into a position ahead of all the other photographers.

When I got to the venue early, I met with the main photo manager of the venue to negotiate a special location. He said that he would work on that, but no promises. Ugh. You see, the photo manager has to deal with hundreds of photographers who have special requests, so I understand their reluctance to commit to anything. But at the same time, I just HAD to get my shots. I did have one advantage. The photo manager knew that I was at every USA water polo match, and he knew that this game was of utmost importance to me. At least that comforted me a bit.

And so the game continued, with the women adding to their lead.

The clock was counting down under 2 minutes and I was watching the bench as much as the game. I love this shot, showing the excitement of the ladies and their coaches. I also love how they go from a low crouch on the left to the full standing on the right. I also laughed with the coach, Adam Krikorian, last night at the party when looking at this photo. He was still in his serious coaching mode, even with a large lead at the end of the game.

The women were all smiles.

And then once more score to put the icing on the cake.

I looked over and saw the ladies crying with excitement. At this point I got the chills too.

Kami Craig, who last night at the party admitted to being a big cry baby,  just lost it.

Then the buzzer sounded and it was time to truly celebrate. Unlike the London Olympics, I was much more prepared for the next couple of minutes.

It is a water polo tradition to throw your coach into the pool after a big win like this, so I had my lens pointed at him, just waiting for this moment.

It was a big ole celebration in the pool with all the other coaches and medical staff joining in.

Coach Krikorian loves his team meetings, and decided to have one last one in the water. :)

Then the mayhem began.

I saw the ladies get out of the pool on my side, and head over to the stands to talk to their families in the stands above. I dumped my Canon 1D X Mark II and 200-400mm lens as fast as I could, grabbed my other 1D X Mark II with the 24-70mm lens and Canon 600EX-RT flash and ran for that part of the pool. I left that $20,000 camera like it was a point and shoot camera, taking the risk that nobody would grab it. And mind you, where I was running was not a legal shooting position, but at this point, all bets are off. I have to get my shot!!!

I am not sure if you saw this on television, but there were a lot of photographers trying to get the best shot. There was a whole bunch of pushing and shoving. But knowing all the athletes helped me direct them my way.

After getting the group shot, a bunch of the ladies asked me if I could shoot some photos for them. And I said "heck yeah, let's capture this moment!"

Family members looking down from the stands...

And the swimmers looking up at them...

Then there was a 20 minute break before the medal ceremony would start. I ran to the other side of the venue to get some photos of the girls in the mix zone, but as it turns out, they don't do the press interviews until after they get their medals. So I ran back to where I started.

At this point I was a sweaty mess, but I still needed to get a good shot of the team getting their gold medals. I found the photo manager again and pleaded my case for a loaner green vest, which gets me special access. He relented and got me a green vest and I along with 6 or 7 other photographers got the prime position in front of the podium. He warned me that I would likely miss the shot of the ladies walking away, since I could not move from this spot after the medal were given out. I quickly weighed the options and decided that the podium shot was the best one.

And it was a good choice.

The emotions were high during the playing of the National Anthem.

Once the National Anthem was over, I asked the girls to group up. I took one wide shot and one a little tighter. (while pushing the other photographers out of my way).

And at this point it just the 7 other photographers and the TV crews.

But then...

The coaches and staff all came over to where we were standing. I had everyone get into one big team photo. But because everyone came our way, so did all the other photographers. At this point, the girls were not going to walk anywhere, so they rushed our way.  All I could think was, "Thank goodness I did not choose the other spot!!!"

Then, about a minute later, all of the women came up to Coach Krikorian and start putting their gold medals on him.

It was a really emotional moment for everyone. It showed their love and respect for him, and it was also a tribute to his strength after his brother unexpectedly passed away less than 2 weeks ago.

I asked Adam to let me get a shot of him with all the gold medals. In case you are wondering, these gold medals are REALLY heavy. This was have been the same weight as my camera equipment on my neck!

Here is one of my favorite candid moments.

I then asked the team to get back together, along with the coach to get this photo. It was not the last of the night, but one of my favorites.

Later that night, I was at the team party and it was so nice to hear that all the athletes and their families were enjoying the photos. It is a chance for them to remember this moment forever. I know that I will, even if it is from behind the camera and not in front of it.

Congratulations to all the amazing woman of the USA Water Polo Olympic Team!!!


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Unknown said...

Wow! What a great story and set of shots! Thanks Jeff for sharing and for all you do!

Ed Rosack said...

Great work, Jeff - and great photos. I've really enjoyed reading your posts from the Olympics.

Unknown said...

Great story! You can really feel the emotion in the pictures

Ben said...

Wow, possibly the best blog I've ever read, what an amazing insight and adventure! Thank you so much for sharing, Jeff :)

Jeff said...

This is a tremendous photo essay covering so many points of view. This should win an award of some sort. It is just too good!

CaptainSteve said...

Jeff, thank you for telling this story :) must have been such a thrill to be there. Cheers
to the USA :) we are proud of you all

Unknown said...

Love the blog! I'm curious if you've shot any track and field?

Unknown said...

glad you were able to put this together.
love the shots and how they show the emotion.
well done.
Better than ones seen from the news feeds, and they were good.

Jeff Giannina said...

Hi Jeff - I just got started back into photography and enjoy your lessons and advice. I really enjoyed all of your blog postings covering rio, can't imagine you were feeling that well, but still managed to write and publish such a nice blog. Really nice job!

Jeff Giannina
Lancaster, SC.

Karla Fischer said...

This is one of the most beautiful pieces of photography and writing I've ever seen. I'm one of the aunts of two of the players and I am so grateful that you posted this.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff
new to your blog, I look forward to it everyday.
You are very talented, I most enjoy the mini lessons embedded in the blogs. Is there anyway that you could include the camera settings on all the pictures? I love an opportunity to learn whenever possible.

Thank You!

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

I do try to include settings with the photos, but at the Olympics I just don't have the time to look them up for each shot and caption every shot. :(

Unknown said...

Really great post and amazing pics! I've learned so much by following your adventures via the blog. Thank you!

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