My Favorite 20 Images and Why

These are my favorite 20 images from Sochi.  They might not be the best pictures I took but they are my favorite images, in no particular order:

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Canada’s Noah Bowman warms-up before his first run for the finals of the Men’s Ski Halfpipe at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014.

This was my favorite day for the Winter Olympics, it was the first time I was at the Winter Olympics that it FELT like the Winter Olympics. As huge snowflakes were coming down, I hiked up to the top of the halfpipe to shoot the warm-ups and the first of two runs for the finals. There was some railing I was standing behind, about nine feet back from the lip, I leaned over and put my camera over the railing for a lower angle, so I wasn’t looking through the viewfinder when I took this picture. A happy accident to get him right in front of the light, we just had to guess where the skiers would be doing their jumps because it wasn’t the same every time.  I started my love of photography shooting skiing growing up in Colorado. This was back in the early 90s and it is cool to see how the sport has progressed. To be able to photograph the first ever Men’s Ski Halfpipe and see an American win was a great treat.

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Gold medalist Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova, right, and bronze medalist Italy’s Carolina Kostner pose for a picture following their flower ceremony for Ladies Free Skating at the Iceberg Palace for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014.

I like this picture because it shows their personality. Italy’s Carolina Kostner, left, had just won bronze, and Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova, right, had won the gold. After the flower ceremony they skated around the rink to celebrate and have their picture taken. Here they posed for a picture by someone in the coaches area.  I was sitting in shooting position A – which is on one of the ends of the rink, right above the coaches area and kinda of behind and to the right (when looking at) the “kiss and cry” area.

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People hangout in front of a fountain in downtown Sochi, Russia on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014.

One of the first days that I was in Sochi I actually went to downtown Sochi, it’s about 17 miles north of the Olympic Park, it took about 40 minutes by train.  A great train ride, a little slow, but it winds the coast of the Black Sea.  It was great to see Sochians (is that a word) celebrating the Olympics (the Olympic Torch had just gone through their city) and everyone seemed to be in a happy and excited mood.

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USA’s Sage Kotsenburg performs during his first run during the semifinals of Men’s Slopestyle at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014.

Mark Reis from the Colorado Springs Gazette showed another photographer (Paul Kitagaki for Zuma) and me a picture similar to this one and told us about this location at the extreme park, so we had to hike up and try and capture it as well. It was a decent hike up there, the weather was warm and sunny.  The only way we knew when a snowboarder was coming down was when the tv guy at the top of the hill started to move, because standing at the bottom of the hill we could see nothing.  Snowboarders could take a jump to the left or right of this doll but luckily most decided to go over the doll.  I lucked out because in this picture it’s a USA guy, who happened to win the gold medal and if he isn’t touching the doll he’s super close to it, most were very far away.

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Russia’s Elena Ilnykh gets a kiss following the Team Figure Skating compeition at the Ice Berg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. Katsalapov was part of the team that won gold for the team competition.

I just like this moment.  In the background – just to the left of the guy kissing the girl, the half-head, is a blurry Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Russian fans cheer after Russia’s Evgeny Plyushchenko finished his performance for the Team Men Free Skating at the Ice Berg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014.

Wow is that little Russian girl excited!  They were pretty far away from me but after Plyushchenko performance I looked for some crowd reaction – stumbled upon these two.

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Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch heads down the course for the downhill during for the the Ladies’ Super Combined at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014.

I hiked up the mountain with another photographer – the only other option was to sit at the finish line – which I typically need to do because we usually only get to photograph one run and we want to get the reaction at the bottom.  Since this was the Super Combined they did one run of downhill in the morning and one run of slalom in the afternoon.  I photographed this with a slightly slow shutter speed – 1/200 of a second to get a little blur in the background which helps gives the skier a sense of speed.

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USA’s Julia Mancuso competes in the Women’s Super Combined Slalom at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014.

This was shot from the finish line – we were really far away. As we were waiting for the skiers to come down and get into a decent size in the frame I noticed skiers popping in and out of the trees – I wish that grey pole, on the left, which is a light pole, wasn’t there but I do like the skier in the trees.

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Switzerland’s Dominique Gisin reacts after finishing her run in the Ladies Downhill at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. She tied for gold with Slovakia’s Tina Maze.

I didn’t see a lot of great faces but this was one of them. I didn’t see it for very long either because I was in the second row of a very tight shooting spot at the finish line of the Alpine Center, I got only got off a few frames before I was blocked.

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USA’s David Backes (42) celebrates his goal against Slovakia goalkeeper Jaroslav Halak (41) in the second period for their preliminary round at the Shayba Arena for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014.

Hockey, like soccer, there is a lot of guessing as to where things are going to happen. I was sitting in my ice level position and was lucky enough to see USA’s David Backes celebrate his goal my direction.

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France’s Thomas Mermillod Blondin heads down the final jump during his downhill run for the Men’s Super Combined at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Friday, Feb. 14, 2014.

Another picture from the finish line. I liked the visual of the mountains in the background.

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Workers prepare the course for the Women’s Super G at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Friday, Feb. 14, 2014.

As I walked out of the press work area and headed to the finish line for the Men’s Super Combined I looked up and saw workers preparing the course for the next day’s race, the Women’s Super G.

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A stray dog sleeps next to a playground in downtown Adler, Russia on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014.

This was for the stray dog assignment we did, Elliott Almond wrote the story – there are a lot of stray dogs around the Olympic Park and some athletes were even adopting some of the younger dogs. We didn’t have access to the athletes so I went to Adler to look for stray dogs. I walked around the town and ran into a few, this one was taking a nap in front of a kids play area. The light isn’t very good but I like the fact that obviously the parents felt comfortable with the dogs around.  The dogs here have all been very sweet and most will let you pet them and they generally look well-fed and they never growled when they saw you.

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Latvia heads down turn five for the Two-man Bobsleigh at the Sliding Center Sanki for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014.

Photographed with a fisheye lens here is Latvia heading down the course. We were allowed amazingly close to the bobsled track. I could have literally reached out and touched the sled.  Bobsled, even though I have only photographed it a few times is one of the more fun, because it’s so visual, and challenging, because it’s so fast, winter sports to photograph.

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Men’s Snowboard Cross was delayed due to fog at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014.

When I reached the Rosa Khutor Exteme Park it was foggy, real foggy. So I went out and took some fog pictures. Afterwards I was resting in the media center waiting to find out if they were going to even race (they did not, it was postponed until the next morning) reporter Elliott Almond came up to me and said, and I’m paraphrasing here “I’m doing a fog story, do you think you can take some fog pictures.” It was great to say – I’ve already taken them! This was a couple up in the stands, I stood behind him, the man on the left turned around and waved at me and then waved the flag.

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Russia heads down turn 10 for Heat 3 of the Two-man Bobsleigh at the Sliding Center Sanki for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014.

Another bobsled picture, this time of Russia heading down turn 10. Bobsled is a great visual sport, but hard to photograph because they go so fast. This was the final for the Men’s Two-man Bobsleigh. Luckily the final started just before dusk so I was able get some light in the sky – just a few minutes later the sky would be pitch black.

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A Russian fan watches Russia-2 head down the track for Heat 4 of the Two-man Bobsleigh at the Sliding Center Sanki for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014.

A young fan at the finish line of the Men’s Two-man Bobsleigh. They were watching the Russian’s two-man team on a big screen television and cheering for them, here she waits for a split-time to be posted.

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People wander around during a weather delay in Men’s Snowboard Cross at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014.

This picture doesn’t have much to do with anything, I saw it after taking the fog features. I was leaving the stands and as I’m walking down the stairs I’m amazed at the scaffolding that is put up, it’s crazy the amount that is used. I just liked the lines that the scaffolding made, it’s like a scaffolding maze, it’s very impressive to see it from the outside and more so from the inside.

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USA’s Alex Deibold is carried by teammates after winning the bronze medal for the Men’s Snowboard Cross at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014.

Apparently this guy wasn’t that great at snowboard cross.  In Vancouver he didn’t make the team but was invited to go as a wax technician.  So when he won a bronze medal he was excited and so were his teammates, they ran out and mobbed him and eventually a couple lifted him onto their shoulders.  I shot this from the handicap area, which was in the front row of the stands slightly elevated.  It’s always good to see raw emotion.

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Heat 4 of the quarterfinals in the Men’s Snowboard Cross at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014.

This was a miserable day – it was at the Men’s Snowboard Cross, it was raining, cold rain, my least favorite weather to photograph in. This had been postponed from the day before due to fog. I had shot a few different events at the Extreme Park and decided to go for a different angle and I walked up to the top of the spectator stands. Because it was raining, and this was the rescheduled event, the stands were pretty empty. We are allowed to shoot from any spectator seat as long as we are not blocking anyone. I looked way up to the top of the mountain and I could see them for a second or two before they disappeared behind a hill. I like all the little people hanging out throughout the frame.

Thank you for reading.

It Wasn’t Horrible

It’s over and it’s a weird feeling to be working like crazy (though the last few days weren’t too bad) and then come to a screeching halt.  I must say it is awesome to not be lugging gear around with me.  Spent yesterday cruising around Sochi  with Paul, Scott, Jeff, Mark and Dan.  Mark and Dan took off today so it was Paul, Scott, AAron, Jeff and I.  We ran into photo manager Rich Lam as we were getting on the 125 bus for Adler, he has been here since the beginning of January – I know he is ready to go home!  I’m looking forward to seeing Linda, my family and friends and having the comforts of home.

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This is the first Olympics I have done where I can honestly say I have zero interest in coming back to visit.  I actually went with my family four years before the 2004 Olympics in Greece to visit Athens and the various antiquities throughout the country.  I would go back for sure.  Beijing in 2008, I went the year before to do pre-Olympic stories.  I would visit there again.  Vancouver – one of my favorite cities and Blackcomb is a great ski resort.  I think I had been there on vacation three times before the 2010 Olympics.  London, a very cool city and would love to explore it more.  Sochi – it’s really nice here, but I have no interest in revisiting.  The mountains are great and the city up there, Krasnaya Polyana, is quite impressive, like a mini-Vail, but the snow looks really bad.

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What worked:

Security:  The fact that there were no major incidents makes that, in my mind, a great success.  The “ring of steel” worked.  Apparently even if you lived in Russia you needed a visa just to get down to Sochi.  Only Sochi residents were allowed to drive in Sochi.  If you weren’t a resident then you’d be taking the bus or train.  Security at the train station was very strict – you weren’t even allowed to bring glass on the plane!  So if you bought a glass souvenir in town, like a shot glass, they would confiscate it at the station!  No one was allowed to drive near the Olympic Park, unless they were a bus driver or else in an officially marked “Sochi 2014” car or a taxi.  Lots of x-ray machines and security personal.  The amazing thing is that, besides the first day, I never saw a gun again, well besides the rocket launchers (or whatever heavy artillery was out by the Alpine Center).  Were the security concerns a overblown?  I think a tiny bit, telling people not to wear anything USA related around town was a little much.  Regular citizens seemed friendly enough, I wish I spoke some Russian because several wanted to strike up conversations.  But I guess better to be safe than sorry.

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Photo managers:  They have always been great and professional at all Olympics and this one was no different.  Rich Lam ran a great bobsled venue and Steve Dykes did great at hockey.  The other venue managers were great as well.

The buses (this was also negative):  The TM3 (the bus from the hotel to the MPC) was amazing during the day, I never waited more than five minutes – after midnight it was a disaster.

Venues:  For the most part great – Olympic Park was great to have so many venues right next to each other.  We would go through security once and we would be good anywhere else in the park.  you’d have to wave your badge while exiting and leaving a venue but you didn’t have to do an X-ray or metal detector.

Photo spots:  Pretty good, not great.  Some venues, like alpine skiing were tough, other venues, like hockey, were great, plenty of spots.  Figure skating was great.  I rarely had any problems getting into shooting spots or and never any problems getting tickets for events for the big events.  Bill Hancock with the USOC was as helpful as ever in getting me tickets for popular events.

US Photographers:  it’s always fun to see people you know in exotic locations.  I mainly hung out with Sean, Paul, Scott, Daniel, Mark, and Mark.  Teaming up to cover events really helps me to figure out what I can do and what I can’t do.  Ran into a ton of other people from other organizations – too many to list but it’s always great to see a friendly face.

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My coworkers:  Reporter Elliott Almond and columnist Mark Purdy and editor Mark Conley (in San Jose) and our picture editors back in Walnut Creek (actually I think they may be in Pleasanton now?) Jami Smith and Cindi Cristie.  My bosses Michael Malone and Nick Lammers.  It was great to hear from coworkers like Patrick Tehan.  It was also great to hear from reporters who said that we were doing a good job and even our executive editor let us know he was happy with our work – so that was great.

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And what didn’t work so well:

The food (caution some complaining will be done here):  Okay food is bad at every Olympics.  But this one was so bad it’s not even funny.  I ended up eating McDonald’s twice a day for a week and half!  Towards the end of that I literally gagged at the thought of eating a cheeseburger, amazingly I had reached my threshold of fast food.  We walked around and saw some great markets with amazing fresh fruit and food.  Wouldn’t it be great if local vendors were brought in to make fresh cuisine – instead they have a company like Aramark (not sure if that was this case this year, but it has been in years past) come in and serve cafeteria style food.  When you ordered food in the cafeteria they would place it on a plastic plate and then microwave the food – the microwave was sitting right no the counter!  Every drink, like a coke, was luke warm, I guess they don’t like cold drinks.  If the food wasn’t horrible I was so happy, I would actually say that – “this isn’t horrible.”

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The buses:  After midnight the TM3 showed up either every 30 minutes or an hour.  Often a TM3 bus would pull in drop off and then just leave.  That was frustrating after a long day when we just wanted to get back to the hotel.  The trip to the mountains took forever – what would normally be an hour trip to Alpine (if driving) would take four buses and 2 1/2 hours.  A lot of time the volunteers would take the media bus instead of their workforce bus – often making what would have been a decent ride into one where we were packed in like sardines.  One time, in a packed TM10 bus, about half full of workforce people, I had almost decided to place my gear in the aisle but decided to leave it on my lap.  Good thing I did because about 15 minutes into the trip a girl right behind me projectile vomited all over the aisle.  I felt bad for her but I would have been most unhappy she had done that on my camera!

Volunteers:  Well, don’t get me wrong, many volunteers were extremely helpful and friendly.  But there were many that would just shrug when you asked them questions.  Few seemed to know where anything was, not to sound like the ugly American, but English is a pretty universal language, and few spoke English.  I was often pointed in one direction only to be pointed back the opposite direction when I got there.  I remember waiting in line over 10 minutes to buy something and when I got to the front the lady says “we are very busy you must wait in line.”  What?  I just left.  Customer service does not exist here.

Lines:  Pure anarchy.  No one paid attention to lines, we’d get in line and once a bus arrived everyone would lose their minds and try and get on the bus at the same time.  We would be waiting in line and people would just walk in front and order.  UGH.

Overall – these Olympics were tough, we can only hope that the good outweighs the bad.  But I always appreciate the experience and I never take for granted the great honor it is to be asked to cover the Olympics for our paper.

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