“Meet The Superhumans” That was the tag-line for Channel 4’s advertising campaign to publicise their coverage of The Paralympics in London 2012. I popped along to Stratford for 12 days and did.
The break between the Olympics and the Paralympics was without doubt necessary but it created a feeling that the second of these great sporting events was a bit of an also ran. Once the curtain parted on the Opening Ceremony it became obvious this was not the case.
As the athletes marched and rolled out it became obvious this was going to be a something spectacular. As The GB team rolled out the fireworks went off and confetti showered them on the track, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I knew we were back where we’d left off , the same passions and dedication just different faces. The following days did not disappoint.
Once again I would be shooting Sport and News or Photographs as I like to think of them.
The Royals were going to be popping up all over the place again…and following Prince Harry’s recent exposure in Las Vegas we would be on the lookout. When he did turn up it was in fact poolside surrounded by girls, sound familiar, he did manage to keep his clothes on this time though. I’m not sure if the female GB swimmers queuing up to have their picture taken with him were pleased or disappointed by this.
Day one and the major difference between the two games became quickly apparent. The first evening saw 18 medal finals in the Aquatics Centre alone. It became apparent that the four of us (Myself, Paul Grover, Julian Simmonds and Jane Mingay ) were going to be stretched if we wanted to cover every GB medal. We were going to have to draw up a schedule and base it on potential British Golds only. We did make one exception with a trip to Brands Hatch to watch the remarkable Italian former F1 Driver Alessandro Zanardi compete in the road cycling where he bagged a Gold .
At the Olympics there is one and one only 100M race , well, one for women and one for men. At the Paras there is one for all types of disability. The same goes for all the disciplines, hence many many finals and Victory ceremonies. Funny thing was it didn’t distract it just made more winners.
Talking of Victory Ceremonies, The Duchess of Cambridge was on hand again and caused a total panic when without warning she appeared at trackside in the stadium to present GB Discus thrower Aled Davies with his Gold Medal. Most of the National Newspaper Photographers including myself had taken up position near the finish line and round the bend from the line for celebration pictures. Kate appeared on the screen and we realised we were in totally the wrong place. One person (who will remain nameless) even photographed her on the screen in his panic. We had seconds before the ceremony started and the only thing we could do was shoot it from where we were. I put a 2x converter on my 600mm f4 making it a 1200mm f8. Shooting at 2000ISO it was still only 160th on a monopod steadied against a pole. It worked and produced what I think was a better frame than the one from the Infield position that most papers went with.
As the games progressed and we became more familiar with the Athletes and worked out how to read the qualifying times it all became a bit more straightforward. Once you’ve seen David Weir power over the line it’s not too difficult to realise you’d better watch him in all his finals. As with Sarah Storey, whose times this year have beaten members of some of the Teams that took part in The Olympics.
We were granted a bit more access this time round. Positions were on a first come first served basis. Obviously the main agencies had a ‘Blue Bib’ for everything despite dramatically slashing their coverage, but it was easier to get a look in this time . I even got a Blue bib for inside track at The Velodrome…much to the amusement of many colleagues who know how I felt about the arrangements at the Olympics.
The only exception to the ‘first come first served’ system was in the dugout under the ‘Head on’ position, so called because it is Head On to the finish line on the home straight.
When the biggest event of the games happened, the 100M between Oscar Pistorius and our own Jonnie Peacock , a sign went up on the dugout explaining ‘authorisation by the Venue Photo manager ‘ required before access. It’s amazing how many people lost the ability to read once they clocked the notice.
After initial worries it was brilliantly run by Bob Martin and his oppo Peter Llewellyn.
Richard Lam, set up a list of photographers who ‘needed’ to be in there and Bob put us in place (after the agencies had nabbed their assigned best spots)…even making room for one national publication who was not even on the list.
The ‘Blue Riband’ event went the way we all hoped and Jonnie won, Oscar coming in second.
Oscar didn’t really have the games I’m sure he imagined he was going to have. But he did come up trumps in the last Stadium Athletics event of the games. The crowd cheered him like he was from Bethnal Green and he got his Gold.
For me the highlight of the games could be equally divided between the very last event The wheelchair Marathon where the superstar David Weir rocked in with another Gold medal performance and the outburst by cyclist Jody Cundy when he got disqualified see this link,
David was/is the ultimate athlete, brilliant at what he does and modest. Jody is what every sportsman should be. He had worked four years to get to that starting block. He got disqualified over a technicality and he went totally Tonto. If an England footballer could tap into that level of passion about his sport then we really would be in with a chance.
He did the very British thing of apologising profusely at the next opportunity but he’d won me over. A man who feels that strongly will always be a hero and a superhuman in my books.
The last day saw me in The Mall getting on a very strange truck with tiered seats to drive around London on the Marathon course ahead of the runners. The wheelchairs go too fast to allow a similar thing but we got to go in front of the other competitors.The weirdest thing was the public ignoring the runners to take pix of us on the truck. Very strange.
Early morning light in London is phenomenal and we made the most of it . Great pix of lberto Suarez Laso as he strolled to victory. But the big man was on after that. The ‘Weirwolf’ , David Weir. Having photographed him crossing the line on his two other Gold medal races we were desperate to get in place for the Weir Roar as he crossed the line. We jockeyed for position, and……he flew past , no celebration. Apparently he was expecting (as you would) a ribbon to burst through. The organisers hadn’t put one out so he didn’t realise he’d crossed the line , hence no celebration pic. Ho Hum. The pix of him with his son more than made up for it.
A Superhuman and a truly Great Briton on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace with a Gold Medal. Brilliant.
Here are some of the photographs.