Attending this past weekend’s NASTAR national Alpine ski championships (www.Nastar.com), I am reminded why I love shooting sporting events. Being close to the action. After all, shooting sports what’s made jump into photography with both feet.
Sometimes, I’m close enough to become a part of the action. Like on Saturday, when the skier from Detroit caught an edge rounding a post and came flying at me full speed. Before me I saw he eyes widen through his red-tinted goggles, and his arms and legs flailing out of control. I regrettably abandoned getting the shot and did a quick reverse pivot and outstretched dive headfirst. I planted myself and my camera equipment off-course and into the ski slope. The plume of snow covered us both, with the skidding racer’s head stopping at my feet. All was good.
Of course, as a photographer I love being in the action as long as I don’t actually affect the action. Being invisible is perfect. The nice part of carrying a big enough camera around at sporting events, or most events for that matter, I almost feel invisible.
With adequate credentials and an attitude of belonging there, I can gain almost unlimited access and get close to the action. Court-side at basketball. Sidelines at football. On the deck at swim meets. Along side the apparatus at gymnastics. Inside the dugout at baseball. On the running surface at track & field. Behind the net at soccer. Inside the velodrome at bike track racing. And on the trail in Nordic skiing, cross-country, cyclocross and mountain biking. Best seat in the house! Better yet, I’m often embedded. Right within the teams. I hear the sideline chatter, from the players, the coaches and between the coaches and the game officials. As such, I get a real sense of the vibe, the feeling. The attitude.
Yogi Berra said it best, “Baseball is 90 percent mental; the other half is physical.”
Thanks Yogi. So much of sport and athletic performance is mental. Those who win are separated from the rest in large part by how they develop and flex the muscle between their ears. And that point of view was undeniably confirmed in a recent dinnertime conversation I was able to have with Olympic Nordic Combined gold and silver medalist Billy Demong. “Sometimes I actually get up in the morning and actually feel sorry for the person I’m competing against,” Billy explained as he talked about how powerful attitude is towards winning. Some days you have it. Others you don’t. Billy explained that as an athlete, you just have to hope it peaks at the most important times. Believe me, getting to talk with Billy for this time I can confirm, he wasn’t bragging. He was just making the point that the real action of sport is mental.
So with camera strapped around my neck, I keep doing what I can to get close enough to capture the physical and mental action of sport. Then I’m sure I’ve got the best seat in the house.