Afterthoughts

Well, it’s done. All of my photos from the World Masters Athletics Championships in Lyon, France in August 2015 are now on my web site, and can be viewed here.

It’s a long, tiring but nevertheless pretty mindless process editing everything up for publication. It gave me plenty of time to think about my time in Lyon and the role of a photographer there. I’ve already blogged about what it was like for me as an athlete in the Championships. You can read that here. This follow-up piece contains some of my musings on life behind the camera.

Lyon was my seventh World Masters Championships event. I’ve covered a whole load of European and national events too, of course, as you can see from my website. However, a palmares like that cut no ice with the Lyon organizing committee, who turned me down for accreditation as a photographer there! It was only following the intervention of World Masters Athletics Vice President, Margit Jungmann, that I and Doug “Shaggy” Smith, my long-time Canadian trackside partner behind the camera at World events, obtained clearance to work as photographers at the event. Thank you so much, Margit.

And work we most certainly did. These Championships were spread over four stadiums and it was simply impossible to cover everything. The multiplicity of venues created timetable nightmares and impossible clashes for many athletes, and also for we snappers. We’ve not yet mastered the art of being in two places at the same time, either. On top of this, Doug and I were in a group of two or three photographers who also took part in the Championships as athletes in our chosen events. I think I was busiest, and raced on five days in Lyon. My reward was also to be the only photographer to come away as a World Champion, as my recent blog reports! Some time back, a Masters web site called me “the fastest cameraman in the world”. I like to think I’ve upheld that title by my exploits in Lyon.

These days, I’m much better than I was at giving first priority to my running, and at knowing when to put the camera away, or not even to take it with me to the track. It is so easy to get drawn into the atmosphere of these big events, and suddenly to find that you’ve spent an extra five hours or so on your feet, when you should have been resting up for your next race.

Five hours? Hah, that would be good. I made a couple of short days as photographer in Lyon, after narrowly failing to make the final of the 100m and 200m, and there was one day when the published programme of events was kind, too. However, at other times, a ten hour day was common. Bear in mind too, that on several days the Lyon temperature reached 40 degrees C in the shade, and considerably hotter down on the track, where we were shooting the action. At least it didn’t rain on any of the days I worked on the track.

Not me, but a colleague catches some rest in Lyon!

Not me, but a colleague catches some rest in Lyon!

I had driven to Lyon, and was staying in a motel quite some way out of the city centre. This had its disadvantages – mainly that my social life was pretty limited every evening for two weeks – but it had the advantage that I didn’t need to carry heavy camera gear across the city on the crowded buses, trams and metro trains. Gear? I took two Nikons, three lenses, plus the usual bundle of accessories. A problem with the mechanism of my long lens meant I had to use it the whole time with a 2x converter attached. I was ultimately glad of this, because I could catch a lot of the action from further away than usual, and had less running about to do. However, it was hopeless for things like group photos, so I was glad of the second camera and a wide lens.

Being properly dressed for the conditions, remembering the suncream, and above all, eating and staying properly hydrated are all things you learn from bitter past experience at events like this. We were not really grateful to the Lyon organisers for expecting the accredited photographers to wear bright green nylon bibs, produced in a “one size fits none” shape. However, on the positive side, we had few problems in Lyon that we’ve experienced at past events, of unauthorised photographers getting under our feet. It was also great working alongside a team of track officials who were generally courteous and good-humoured, and, most of the time, respected us as having a job to do and knowing how to do it. We’re not always that fortunate! There were nevertheless the occasional “moments”, as there always are, when action, art and officialdom come together!

When it came to deciding which tracks to shoot at, I set a few simple principles. I wasn’t prepared to drive from stadium to stadium all around Lyon to catch action at several different venues on a single day. Time spent navigating Lyon’s roads was time not spent catching the action, of course. I also gave priority to venues that would have a good number of British athletes there, and to venues where finals were taking place. Even so, at one venue I visited for a day, there was so much going on, spread around a large and shade-less site, that I eventually found I was missing more potentially good shots than I was getting. At least the multiple venue approach by the organisers meant these championships were able to finish the schedule every day by early evening. None of the usual late nights, although there were several early starts.

As a freelancer, I am fortunate, in one sense at least, not to go to these events burdened with the expectation that I will submit a body of work, reports etc, every afternoon or evening. I pitied those slaving away in the media centre who had to do this, keep web sites up to date, and so on. Apart from catching the best of the action, I needed to ensure that Athletics Weekly magazine got a dozen or so shots from me by the end of each of the two Sundays I was in Lyon. I also made sure I posted a representative selection of photos regularly to Twitter. My iPad served me well as portable technology. The main stadium and the media centre were also supplied with very capable wi-fi, unlike my hotel, where it was slow and sporadic.

That same description could be used of the online results service in Lyon. It could be, but to use it would be irresponsibly kind. To be frank, for most of the duration of the Lyon championships, the results service was an utter disaster and a significant black mark against the achievements of the Lyon organisers. Not only was the capacity of the web site used for the results service grossly under-estimated, but it took far too long for the situation to be improved. Far too little information was given out about what was happening to get better results out to the athletes and the world at large, too. One has to hope that the organisers of future events will recognise the web-oriented world in which we live now, and ensure that they prioritise a world championships-class web service.

I’m as yet undecided whether I will be going to the 2016 Worlds in Perth, Australia. It’s a long way off, though, and things might change.

(Oh, and in keeping with tradition, I even managed to keep this blog title related to music in my collection. “Afterthoughts” is a track from long ago by Irish folk supergroup Sweeney’s Men!)

Sadly, I don't know who took this shot. Shaggy Smith on the right. Me third from right in the white hat, holding my camera.

Sadly, I don’t know who took this shot. Shaggy Smith on the right. Me third from right in the white hat, holding my camera.

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