Gear : Winners, Losers & Victims

I posted a few times on gear before I left: here, here and here.  Now seems like a good time to talk about what worked, what was disappointing and a few “it wasn’t my fault” type failures.

Winners

  • ThinkTank Roller – This is a bag that is easily taken for granted.  I didn’t even mention it during my initial write-up, but the Airport was rock solid for the entire trip.  It was bounced up and down countless sets of stairs, raced for the bus, dragged through the snow, pushed through the mud, overstuffed and generally abused.  Never had a single issue.
  • Nikon D850 – If this is what the “new” Nikon is capable of delivering, sign me up for
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    D850.

    the mirrorless now.  Remarkably compact form factor, but attach the battery grip and it’s a legit sports camera.  It’s also worth noting that it’s tough.  The D850 took a couple of tumbles and never let me down.

  • RRS Mini-Tripod –  The perfect finish line remote base.  The head never drifted, the lever makes adjustment easy and it folds up tiny.  I saw a couple of other photographers eyeing it during the Olympics, I won’t be shocked if RRS has a run on them.
  • Craft Storm Pants – My “go to” each and every day of the trip.  Yes, they could be a little “warm” in the superheated press venues and on #saunabus, but they were absolutely perfect out on the course.

Losers

  • Glyph Blackbox Pro 8TB – What a colossal disappointment.  I spent weeks researching archival drives and clearly made the wrong choice.  It worked fine for a couple of days, but then just wouldn’t mount.  Olympic Tech Support finally got it back up, but it was painfully, painfully slow.  I brought over some old LaCie drives as redundancy — without those, I would have been toast.  This is my second Glyph drive to fail out of the box and — as the saying goes — “shame on me.”  (And pro tip — as a guy who knows a little bit about customer service — telling me that “Let’s have you follow up with a technician to see if you can prevent these errors in the future” isn’t a good idea.  I ONLY have problems with your drives.  Every other kind has been fine.)  My advice?  Avoid these folks like the plague.
  • Patagonia Galvanized Pants – I like these pants, but the suspenders are a pain.  They’d come unhooked at the worst times and were a hassle getting them reattached.  I tried going without the suspenders, but that almost turned into an international incident of its own.
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    Out of whack D5.  This one still bums me out.

    Nikon D5 – It hurts to put this one here, but I had a rough couple of days.  This camera went to Nikon USA for a full check-up just before leaving for Korea.  For the first portion of the games, it was perfection.  The rest you can read about here.  To be fair, I shot the rest of the games on a D5 borrowed from Nikon and it was fine.  But I’m still ticked about my overall experience and my personal camera failing so quickly.

Victims

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    Feathers.  Everywhere.

    L.L.Bean 850 Down Jacket — The miles of scaffolding at Pyeongchang were covered with screening and let’s just say that OSHA didn’t sign off on the wire used to attach it.  It scratched a number of photographers during the week and my jacket was one of the victims.  Feathers everywhere.  Luckily I brought a Patagonia Nano and used it as an “underlayer.

  • Warby Parker glasses & their two friends – I brought four pairs of glasses to Pyeongchang — My WarbyParker frames, two adequate drugstore readers and an “only in an emergency” pair.  I’ve been wearing the latter for the last five days.  It was definitely “hood” weather and putting the hoods on & off was tough on glasses.  They’d fall off and disappear in the snow.  And given the number of photographers, it was just a matter of time before someone stepped on them.

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    Rest in peace, WarbyParker.

Oh, Korea!

Twenty-eight hours of travel later, I’m now back in Maine.

It was an amazing twenty-three days.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at my first Olympics.  Great races?  Sure.  But a gold medal for Kikkan and Jessie?2018-02-24 16.23.47  Dependable and efficient bus transportation?  Reasonably decent wifi?  Those were all fabulous surprises.

A few more things I’ll remember from Pyeongchang :

  • Korean Ramyun – Pretty sure that I had ramyun for at least 40 of the 69 meals in South Korea.  Maybe more.  But the biggest surprise was that Koreans really like all things spicy.  I’d always ask if a certain ramyun choice was “hot.”  Without exception, the answer would be “oh, noNot spicy.”  And as I was taking the first couple bites and starting to spontaneously combust, I’d hear “well, maybe just a little.”
  • The weather.  Have I mentioned that it was cold?  Most of the days were a seasonable mid-twenties and we even had a period of sunshine.  But as soon as the sun went down, the wind would pick-up and the temperature would plummet.  And that goes double for the Ice Planet Hoth Biathlon Stadium.  It took all the photographers by surprise.  Or, to quote one of the photographers who lives in Ruka — in the very northern part of Finland, “Pyeongchang is the coldest place I’ve ever been…
  • Olympic_20180207_552The North Face Olympics – One of my lasting memories of these Olympics will the North Face presence.  I’ve heard that TNF made over 50,000 volunteer uniforms and they were everywhere.  The partnership was exceptionally well done and I thought the uniforms served to “connect” the Pyeongchang visual identity across the various venues.
  • It was tough.  I had been forewarned that shooting the Olympics would beImage-1 physically demanding and Pyeongchang didn’t disappoint.  My typical schedule was to arrive at the Main Press Center between 9:00 and 10:00.  I’d take care of a few administrative type things and then head out to the various venues.  My goal was to be back in the house by midnight and that happened about 50% of the time.  According to Apple Health, I was walking an average of 9 miles a day and climbing 45 floors.  My biggest day was on February 6th when I walked 11.2 miles and climbed 71 floors.  What Apple doesn’t take into consideration was that I was always carrying between 30 – 40 lb of photo gear.  So “yes,” I should have done more squats before the trip.
  • The other photographers.  I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but I heard that 1,000 EP (photographer) credentials were issued for the games.  Bottom line, Pyeongchang had 999 (plus me) of the best photographers in the world, all in one spot.  Not only are these folks incredibly talented, but — almost to a person — they couldn’t have been nicer.  I mentioned David Burnett here, but Doug Mills of the New York Times, Jeff Swinger of USA Today, Lars Baron of Getty, Joel Marklund, the NordicFocus group, etc. — I couldn’t imagine spending the month with a better bunch.

I’ll do a couple more posts over the next few days.  I’m still getting questions about “who can stand where?” from a photographer’s perspective and now that I’m (almost) unpacked, I’d also like to do a gear wrap-up.

But thanks for following along.  It’s been a heckuva ride.

Oh, Canada!

Biathlon starts late (again) tonight, so I popped up to the Phoenix Snow Park to watch Women’s Skier Cross.  Two observations :

  1. Props to that kid from Farmington who won Border Cross in back-to-back Olympics.  These cross events are filled with crashes, both your own and those inflicted on you by your competitors.
  2. A crowd of happy Canadians brings out the long-suppressed “Chicoine” side of my family tree.  The crowd seemed half Canadian and taking both Gold and Silver this morning brought out their best.  If nothing else —  watch the awards ceremony.  The silver and gold medalists are hysterical.

I would like a meat pie now, please.

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American Nordies

Pretty cool.

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Medal plaza
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If you read silliness about lack of attendance at these games, ignore it.  With the exception of the Ice Planet Hoth Biathlon Center’s night races, everything has been well attended.
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I was in the media center, but I’m assuming that the medals were forged in this tower.
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American nordies.

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Waiting for the bus.

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My walk home.

 

Let’s do this again real soon…

I remember exactly where I was when Bill Koch won his medal.

The team was at practice on the trails behind the Livermore Falls shoe factory (where my grandmother worked) and we were doing intervals around the bog.  Coach Beedy and Coach Miller gave us the news.

For many of my teammates, Bill was a friend.  A few raced against him.  One raced with him on the World Cup.  We all knew his brother, Fritz.  And the success of a friend — especially for someone as nice as Bill — is something that’s hard to explain.

But it was the “community” aspect of Bill’s silver that was even more powerful.  Let’s face it, cross-country skiing in the USA is a fringe sport.  It’s not basketball, football or baseball.  It takes place outdoors in the dead of winter.  We have to explain it to our friends.  And Bill’s success elevated all of us.  Yes, we were still nordies, but we were “second place in the world” nordies, thank-you very much.

All of those same thoughts apply to last night.

I will always remember exactly where I was standing when Kikkan and Jessie won their gold medal.  Not only was I in the finish area to witness it first hand, but I was surrounded by friends who share this same passion and contributed, either directly or indirectly, to the evening’s success.  Grover, Matt Whitcomb, Cork, Robert Lazzaroni, Tom Kelley, Zuzanna, Tiger, Luke, Erik Flora, Eli, Simi, Sophie, Ida, Andy — it’s a long list.  There were a definitely a few missing, but I didn’t have to look too far to see a teary face to share the moment.

While I’ve known both athletes for a number of years, I consider Kikkan and her husband Jeff to be close friends.  They’re incredible people and there’s truly no one more deserving.  It speaks to the character of the person when no less than four Norwegians whispered before the race, “I hope Kikkan wins a medal tonight.”  The optimist in me firmly believes that Kikkan’s contributions to the sport over the last 20 years would have been recognized regardless, but having a gold medal in your pocket doesn’t hurt.  And I’ll add that there was more than one “I’m so happy for Jeff” in the media building at the end of the evening.

But more than anything else, I hope that there was a 15-year somewhere who heard the news at ski practice and felt the connection to the bigger skiing community.  Kikkan and Jessie didn’t just win a gold medal last night, they demonstrated — once and for all —  the potential of USA cross-country skiing on the global stage.

Let’s do this again real soon.

P.S. — A number of folks have messaged me — both publicly and privately about the success of the Kikkan and U.S. Ski Team sponsorships by L.L.Bean.  Thank-you.  For something that started out as “Steve’s Folly,” it seemed to have turned out all right.  And a huge shout out to Katie Gould Swenson and Eric Schenker (Craft) who didn’t hang up the phone four years ago…

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Chris Grover — US Coach — with Jessie
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On the podium.
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It’s missing a few people, but I love this shot.
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Matt Whitcomb – US Coach.  Long suffering Red Sox fan.
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Erik Flora – APU & Kikkan’s longtime Coach
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Finish line hijinks
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A small part of Kikkan’s family.
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Jessie at the finish.
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JP — One of the USA’s wax techs
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Jason Cork — Jessie’s long time coach
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INCREDIBLY happy for this guy tonight.  Tom Kelley — the U.S. Ski Team’s longtime head of PR —  and Jessie Diggins.
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Kikkan
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Kikkan and Jessie
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Kikkan’s husband Jeff and Frederico from NordicFocus

At a loss for (french) words.

Yesterday turned into a “quantity over quality” day.  I had a grand total of twenty minutes to shoot a bit of Nordic Combined ski jumping.  From there, it was a brisk walk to the Ice Planet Hoth Biathlon Center for the Mixed Relay.  I wrapped up the evening by shooting the Nordic Combined 10k Gunderson (A fancy word for pursuit.)

We’ve seen more than a handful of impressive performances during these Olympics.  That list would be incomplete without Martin Fourcade.  With the exception of the 20km individual race where he had an uncharacteristic two misses in his last approach, Fourcade has dominated the biathlon and nearly single-handedly won the mixed relay for France.  I had a chance to be in the range for his two shooting stops and the speed in which Fourcade works is hard to describe.  He comes in fast, shoots fast and leaves fast.  Given my limited “mémère francais,” we’ll settle for “magnifique,” but it just doesn’t do justice to what he’s accomplished in Pyeongchang.

Team Sprint Relays today!

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It figures…

I’ve spent the better part of two weeks running between the Alpensia XC Stadium, Alpensia Jump and the Ice Planet Hoth Biathlon Center.  I’ve shot most of the races and a bit of the ski jumping.

Visited the Curling Center for 45 minutes — maybe an hour — yesterday.  Here’s what my son sent :

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My expression pretty much sums up my curling feelings.

#winning

A much needed day off today.

  • Went to the Nikon depot and had my cameras cleaned & checked.
  • Called home.  Got the Sugarloaf snow report.
  • Went to the USA vs. Canada curling match.  Stayed for just over an hour because, well, it’s curling.  (Apparently, the USA ended up winning.)  I haven’t shot that much male pattern baldness since the NCAA Ski Championships.
  • Dinner.
  • Picked up a few supplies.
  • Woolite.

#winning

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Grab a bowl of kimchi and a Kass, you’re going to want to watch these races…

It’s easy to make fun of the Olympics.  They clearly haven’t figured out how to deal with institutional, state-sponsored doping.  The Games are pricing themselves out of every market through excess and greed.  (Read this article.)  Their approach to media is archaic — on a good day.

But dang, we’re seeing fantastic ski racing.  So grab yourself a bowl of kimchi and a Kass, kick the dog off the couch and watch today’s Men’s 4×10 relay and the Men’s Mass Start Biathlon.  You’ll see the rise of a possible once-in-a-lifetime talent.  You’ll see a 15k biathlon mass start race come down to a fraction of an inch — with one athlete pounding the ground, only to then find out that he actually won.

Trust me — you won’t be disappointed.

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Martin Fourcade (FRA)

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3.3k later, one of these skiers will be a gold medalist.

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One of the goals for this trip was to get better at remote cameras.  I still have a ways to go.

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The highest bar is the hardest to hurdle.

If you haven’t watched tonight’s relay yet — you should.  It’s yet another seat-of-your-pants, pedal-to-the-medal (!) Olympic ski race with drama, surprises and a razor-thin margin of victory.

But if you’re watching just to see a possible American medal — spoiler alert — it doesn’t happen.  Team USA skied a helluva race, but came up short.

The hype around this relay race got a little heavy.  Yes, we had a shot.  But the world is filled with great teams and the Olympics brings out the very best in everyone.  (Do you think that OAR didn’t have something to prove tonight?)

My only request is that you put tonight into context.  A few years ago — especially on the women’s side — the USA was strictly back of the pack.  The idea of World Cup points, nevermind a possible Olympic medal was a daydream.  Then Kikkan came along and a great coaching staff gelled.  Sophie showed up.  Jessie made herself known.  Sadie.  Ida.  People like Liz Arky finally tackled World Cup basics like a waxing truck.  (Until this year, our waxing resources were the same as the Freeport Ski Team at the Maine Class C State Meet.)

And the next thing you know, we’ve got a team fighting for podiums and medals.  It’s a remarkable achievement.  And the good news?  I photographed the World Junior/U23 Championships last year and we’ve got some kickass kids coming through the pipeline.   And this year’s WJC/U23 team performed even better than last year’s team.

So how do we clear that final bar?  It won’t happen with letters to FasterSkier about team selection, race order or criticizing this leg or that leg.  That’s a colossal waste of time and gets exactly zero accomplished.  Want to make a difference?  Donate money to the NNF.  Work with your regional division like NENSA or CXC. Sponsor an athlete (Many of our athletes spend over $25k a year on travel).  Sponsor a team.  Renew your USSA membership.  Ask the USSA about their budget priorities and nordic funding plans.  Better yet, one of the most pressing needs in the ski community is middle and high school age coaches.  Take a coaching course and convince some kids to slap ’em on.

Because that’s how we become a real skiing nation.

And clear that final bar.

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The mass start.  I picked this location because when the athletes were in the start area, you could see the Olympic rings in the biathlon stadium.  And then a giant truck drove by…
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Sophie Caldwell (USA)
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Sadie Bjornsen (USA)
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I mentioned this in a tweet earlier tonight, if Charlotte Kalla doesn’t go on the list of “greatest clutch athletes of all time” list, there’s something wrong.  WOW — what a relay leg.
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Breck’s Mom (USA)
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Jessie Diggins (USA)
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Team USA post-race hug.
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This shot was from my remote camera.  I was half-a-stadium away and the Swedish team was posing for Joel Marklund.  (Swedish photographer)  This makes up for him getting in my remote shots last year.
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Another remote shot.  My position was blocked by athletes running out to see their teammates.
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Not sure who the older gentleman is, but the Euro press went nuts.