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I still had that “uncooked” feeling this morning when the alarm went off at 6 AM. But today was day one of the greatest multi-sport event in the Americas – the Pan-Am Games, and I was psyched to get the show on the road. No better way to start than with the swimming marathon (open water) competition. After packing my fins and goggles, my underwater housing with a 14 mm on a 1DS, and a dry bag with a 70-200 mm and a Mark III, I was out the door and in a cab. Even though the start of the race was only about 3 KM down the beach from my hotel, all of the streets were shut down and it took my gregarious cabbie 10 minutes to find a spot to drop me off about 2 blocks from the venue. Ate Logo – no tip for you buddy.
Soon after arriving, I quickly met up with my friend and contact at the Brazilian Olympic Committee, the charming Camilia Simpson. She knew of my plans to try to shoot the swimming marathon from the water and I could tell it made her a bit nervous. But after reassuring her that I could swim and wouldn’t interfere with the competitors, we tracked down the main man HCW (head course worker) and his militia (entourage?). He didn’t speak a drop of English, so it was fortunate that Camilia was there to drop my bomb on him. Since the marathon was a water start (meaning the athletes swim out to a buoy about 500m offshore and then line up for the horn) my plans were to shoot them entering the water, swim out to the buoy with them while holding my housing, and then shoot them lined up at the start heading to the 2nd buoy. But since that would leave me in the water and behind the media boat filled with photographers, I asked the HCW if I could “borrow” one of his course zodiacs for a pick-up and follow the pack. This would also enable me to leave my dry bag in the boat with my 70-200mm that I needed for the general action shots prior to the race. After looking at me like I was crazy, the HCW paused a moment to think.
Brazil is really a great place. Good food, drinks and…well, after a moment to collect his thoughts, the head honcho spilled out a bunch of Portuguese at me like I understood what he was saying, and then directed me to his crew. “OK, let’s take a group shot!” Next thing I knew, I am shooting about 25 course workers, lifeguards and Camila. Then they all wanted to take a photo with me. So I obliged and I was in.
The entire thing went as planned. I got some nice shots of the competitors entering the water, I swam with them to the buoy (partially directing them to the starting line) jumped the zodiac and shot them with the zoomer. I wanted to get back to the shore for the finish so my fun ship filled with five Brazilian men all in uniform Speedos and polo shirts, giggling like they were still feeling the drinks from the night before, happily dumped me off about where they picked me up – about 500m off shore.
After completing that cycle twice, once for the women’s race and once for the men’s, I happily packed my gear, got a dry pair of shorts and my Crocs on, and headed to the 2nd half of my busy day.
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There are no other Olympic sports quite like weightlifting and fencing where athletes exert themselves for short periods of time and expel enourmous jubo and yells. Luckily, the venues where both events were held were side by side in Riocentro (the main park and MPC). Also fortunate for me, both were well lit and had better backgrounds than then two previous venues at the Pan-Ams in the ‘99 and ‘03.
Unfortunately, the events didn’t live up to my expectations. Esgrima (fencing) was a bit anti-climatic as the American Andras Horanyi blew away his Latin American counterpart after which it was quite obvious he had never taken jubo lessons. He walked off the stage with his head down looking more like a loser than a gold medalist.
Then by the time I hustled over to the weightlifting and sorted out my pool vest, I got in position for the final lift (not knowing it was the final lift). I sat on the photographer benches wondering what I had missed while they scurried off to their computers to beat each other to the punch to file a 1600 ASA weightlifting shot at 11 PM. But even when you miss the action shot of the winner, the beautiful thing about the Pan-Am Games, like the Olympics, is you always have the insurance of the medal ceremony.