Sunday, 7 August 2016

Sports photography

I sat down to watch the men's road race at the Olympics yesterday. With near perfect timing when I switched on the television it has just started. I have been watching a lot of road race cycling lately. This is the first time I have watched so much of the Olympics.

The racing was close, with the action very fluid and changing regularly. I prefer one day racing, rather than the long tours like the Tour De France. Don't get me wrong I watched as much of the Tour de France as I could. But there were long periods of tactical riding. The commentators enthused about it. I didn't so much.

The best parts of the race were the two mountain circuits. Punishing climbs and very fast descents. These descents proved to be dangerous, especially the second circuit.

The majority of the race was filmed from motorbikes, a little helicopter footage and some static cameras.

The commentators made much of the dangers faced by the racers during the descents. A few crashes served as reminders about the risks. Thankfully the injuries were, I think, light. Only a collarbone and scapula were broken. Taking into account the speed and lack of run off I call this light. And lucky.
They reached speeds close to fifty miles per hour. And it got chaotic in places with the many team and official cars, the security and press motorbikes and of course the racers. How there aren't more collisions between all of these is testament to the skill, and concentration of everyone involved.

This got me thinking about how the coverage of these events is taken a bit for granted. I think only a few times was it mentioned that the media motorbikes were taking just as big risks. They had to follow the racers, not interfere with them and allow them space to race. All the time giving us quality coverage of the action.

It was easy to forget as I watched the racers fly down the twisting hills that to get these pictures a fully loaded motorbike with two people on it; the second one standing. Was following close behind.

It's not just cycle racing that is dangerous to cover. The photographer might be in a fast moving helicopter, car or boat. Perched at the top of a tall tower or swaying cherry picker. They might be standing a little closer to the action than is completely safe. Or at the very least sitting in the burning sun, wind, rain and snow for hours on end.

So the next time you are watching a sporting event on television, spare a thought for how the picture got to you.

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Update.

The women's race was marred by the crash of Annemie van Vleuten. She was in intensive care for a while. Concussion and broken bones in her lower back were the injuries. At first it did look like it could have been much worse.

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