Monday, August 2, 2021

Behind the scenes: How this Olympics is so different from the others!

We all knew that this Olympics was going to be incredibly different than any other Olympics in history. The Games has been cancelled numerous times due to world wars, but never has an Olympics happened during a worldwide pandemic. And the result of this is evident here in Tokyo for sure. This blog post is to share with you many of the things that are different this time around.

Let's start with the big one.

No spectators

Many of you have asked me what it is like to be here without spectators in the stands. And I can tell you that, at first, it was really strange. Weirdly enough, I have gotten a little used to it. What I miss the most is the positivity and excitement that exudes from the crowd. Heck, just like the athletes, we all feed off of that too. Not having that crowd noise and reactions is just strange. It also means that I have less good images to bring home, since many of my favorite images are those of the rabid fans with faces painted and crazy outfits.

It is really weird to see concession stands and crowd control barriers for nothing.

It make me sad to think of all the people who could be enjoying themselves at the Olympic Games right now.

Strangely enough, there is a positive side to all this (although I hope it never happens again) in that there are no crowds to contend with. It is much easier to get in and out of venues. As press, we have different entrances, eating areas and bathrooms, but we still have to fight the crowds at some point. I heard one photographer say that he wishes all Olympics were like this. Not me!

Advanced booking system

At past Olympics, I was able to roam freely from one venue to another without any planning. If I was done shooting and I was near another venue, I might just pop in and see if there were good photos to be made. Not this time around. For this Olympics, the Tokyo Organizing Committee (TOCOG) wanted to keep things Covid safe and control how many individuals were in each building. So, they implemented an online advanced venue booking system. We need to go on that and request access to venues at least 24 hours before we show up. And there are no guarantees that we will be approved. Although, I have yet to be turned down, other than for high-demand ticketed events (which is normal).

Covid tests

I wrote about this on the blog before, but it is different and needs to be brought up again. We are being Covid tested all the time. Some of us are being tested daily while others are tested every 4 days (after they have been in Tokyo for at least a week). I heard that those of us who are in the Field of Play (and therefore closest to the athletes) need to be tested more often than others. At first I was doing all my Covid testing at the Main Press Center. Now that I have a bunch of test kits, I can do my spit tests whenever I want (as long as I do not eat or drink within 30 minutes), and I can drop off the tests at almost any venue.


Wearing a mask all the time is nothing new for many people over the last year and a half, but here we are living in them for 17 hours a day. Not only is it irritating to the skin, but it makes it a lot harder to take photos when the eyepiece is fogging up or the mask is creeping up into my eyes. And the weather here is not helping any of this either.

The Weather

I have photographed many other Summer Olympics, but folks this place is just plain HOT and HUMID! It makes the Summer Games in London and Rio look like the Winter Games. I am happy that my contractual shooting is all indoors, and if you notice, most of what I have photographed so far is indoors. That is for a reason! I have friends who were photographing at the golf venue and they said that it was so hot that it was almost dangerous out there. I am planning on photographing the equestrian event today, but it does not start until 7pm, so hopefully it will be a little cooler after sunset.

No Mix Zone

If you have followed my other Olympic journeys, you know that I typically capture images of the athletes directly after a game when they are doing their interviews (in the area called the Mix Zone). At these Games, they are limiting the media in the mix zone and they do not allow any photographers. The only post-game shots I am getting now is at the water polo venue, because they know me there and know that I am shooting for the team. But even then, I am standing far back and shooting with a long lens. 

No mixing with the public

At most Olympics, the media is working crazy hours and this really limits our ability to go out and socialize. But we usually can carve out a couple of nights to go to dinner, or we will find a great lunch spot (which is fast) to frequent. This time, we are not allowed to venture into the public for more than 15 minutes at a time. I use this 15 minute window to buy things at the Family Mart or 7-11 which are on the same block as my hotel. Heck, they are pretty much on every block here. Once we are here more than 14 days (and that is today for me), we are allowed to go out, but it is still not highly encouraged.

No public transportation

Anyone who has been to Tokyo knows that the subway system is amazing, and the Olympic venues were picked based on subway station locations. But due to the pandemic, we have not been allowed to use public transportation at all, so we are limited to the TM buses and the specially approved taxis.

No Olympic lanes

At every Olympics I have ever been to, they have Olympic lanes on the freeways and roads that the press buses and other official vehicles use to get to venues. There are none of those here, so when we are in the press buses, we are often stuck in traffic which causes delays. Last night I had a bus ride that was only a half mile long and it took 25 minutes. If I could have walked, it would have been way faster.


When I got to Tokyo, I was limited to what I could do for the first three days of my stay here. But I had it WAY easier than others. Anyone coming from the UK, France or other highly infected areas were forced to hard quarantine (no leaving the hotel) for 3 days or more. And they had people coming to the hotels to check and make sure they were in their rooms. I was talking to my new friend, Arnold (the photo manager at the water polo facility) and he told me that he had to hard quarantine for 14 days before starting his work in Tokyo. That means that he could not leave his postage stamp sized room for 14 days! Not even going out into the hallway. He said that he did not even put on a pair of shoes for two weeks. I give him a ton of credit. I know I could not do this!

I am not writing this to complain, since I came here knowing that this would likely be the conditions. And...I am happy to be here and sharing everything with you all. I am just reporting the facts back to you. 

Not to get ahead of myself, since we are still here in Tokyo, but we are all wondering what Beijing is going to be like in 6 months for the Winter Olympics. There are rumors here that they are going to require a hard quarantine for 3 weeks for anyone coming in for the Olympics. That could be a deal breaker for me!


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Unknown said...

I've always wondered how many photographers are there that cover the USA teams that come from the USA.

Drew and Leanne Chislett said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blogs Jeff and your very engaging images. The multiple exposure and motion blur images are great. Thanks. As a photog headed to the Paralympics, what is your key piece of advice? I am also intrigued about your workflow to get images out fast? Shoot, lock, photomechanic, ftp?

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

My recommendation is to bring lots of shorts and short sleeve shirts. :)