"Passion lives here!"
"Passion lives here!" That was the slogan for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. And a party it was, too!
To be honest, my invitation was a bit delayed. To be completely accurate, I didn't even have an invitation at first. It wasn't until one of my unfortunate British colleagues broke his hand just a couple of weeks before the biggest celebration of amateur winter sport. I got credentialed onto the short list of Getty Images' Olympic team.
Like any proper bachelor, I arrived fashionably late because of a football game. While my Olympic co-workers had been scoping out the venues and making stunning preview shots, I had been spending the week shooting that other party of parties, Super Bowl XL in Detroit. Torino, in fact, turned out to have a touch of the American Motor City to it with part of an old Fiat factory serving as the Main Press Center and a fair amount of industrial enterprise surrounding the baroque-styled inner city. But needless to say, Italy has a bit more history at holding athletic contests than Detroit and knows a good bit about embracing life too. Like any good shindig, there was excellent food, libations, party favors and an A-list of guests along with some serious sleep deprivation. How can one go wrong with pizza, pasta, a Barolo red wine and extra-virgin olive oil to go with the likes of Peter Forsberg and Shaun White, Carla Bruni and Sophia Loren, Peter Gabriel and Luciano Pavarotti, Laura Bush, kings and queens?
To be sure, I was as much hired help as privileged guest at this celebration. While the Olympics are fun, they are hard work for any sports photographer. The days were long, even with our team split into two groups to accommodate the unusual distance between the mountains and the city (49 hours in fact for my final "day"). The unexpected often does become the most memorable tale of a party. In this case (as at most recent Olympics) the host city was prepared but not always completely in control: Organization sometimes begged for better execution. Media buses were sometimes nowhere to be found, far from where they should have been or horribly delayed -- while taxis were difficult to find. Commercial interests and broadcasters sometimes managed to infiltrate the sense of international culture (although sponsors undoubtedly helped cover the expense of such a massive event). Backgrounds were often challenging to say the least. And there were security headaches and lapses.
While there were times I wished I had the energy to join others in late-night revelry after three hockey games, the true joy of the competition for me was in witnessing the athletes' pursuit of glory with complete abandonment: Hockey players colliding, figure skaters flying and speed skaters diving. (Not to mention my cohorts' Herculean efforts at carrying loads of gear.)
Upsets reigned and international rivalries were renewed: Echoes of the Cold War were diminished as Sasha Cohen and Irena Slutskaya stumbled, leaving gold for Shizuki Arakawa. The Swedes beat the Finns in hockey -- again. The Dutch tried wholeheartedly to dominate the long track, but it was the Koreans who solidified their control of the short track. While success inspired unfettered jubilation, 'failures' released utter disappointment under the blazing Olympic rings. An Italian dance couple perfected the art of the icy fault-blaming glare. A visual feast indeed!
Meanwhile, with preparation, our access allowed us to pursue graphic angles and different viewpoints. Balancing on an I-beam off the catwalk above the ice to set up a remote shot, rushing out ahead of the Zamboni to re-adjust the camera in the hockey net, walking onto the ice from the "kiss and cry" to photograph skaters receiving their medals, standing almost within arm's reach of a spinning Formula 1 Ferrari, and climbing up a tower at least 60 feet above the stage for the closing ceremony are moments I will always remember.
But my colleagues from around the globe with whom I shared the experience and the hosts who were so generous in their help will be the most cherished of my memories that only I will know hide within every photo. Perhaps that is the true Italian translation for "Passion Lives Here!"
© Brian Bahr
Dispatches are brought to you by Canon. Send Canon a message of thanks.
Back to April 2006 Contents