The Road to the Winter Olympics

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In a few weeks all eyes will be on a Pyeongchang County, South Korea to watch what could be one of  the most historical Winter Olympic Games of recorded time.  Putting politics aside, athletes from around the globe have been training for years for this moment to test their skills, endurance, stamina and grace against their equals.  This year professional photographer Jeff Swinger captured images of the highs and lows of the U.S. hopefuls for USA Today Sports.

Events included:
– Alpine Skiing
– Figure Skating
– Media Day
– Ski Jump
– Speed Skating
– Nordic Combined

Read his accounts of the trials, take a look at the images he captured and follow your favorites at this year’s XXIII Olympic Winter Games.

The Road to the XXIII Olympic Winter Games

From Feb. 9-25, 2018, the eyes of the world will be on Pyeongchang County, South Korea, to watch the finest amateur winter sports athletes from around the globe vie for Olympic medals and stand on the winners’ podiums.

For the past several months, Jeff Swinger, a 25-year professional photographer and member of the USA Today Sports photo team since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has been capturing images during the U.S. Olympic trials and qualifiers.  In February, he will travel to South Korea to photograph the action in many of the events for USA Today Sports fans worldwide.

Jeff Swinger, USA TODAY Sports photographer, checks and double-checks his essential tools before every Olympic trial and event.  This includes his Canon cameras, refurbished/upgraded Mac notebook and OWC Envoy Pro EX storage. It may not look like the normal set-up for a computer user; but for action photographers, it works … beautifully.

 

This will be Jeff’s fourth Olympics behind the lens.  In between Olympics stints, he shoots professional and college sports in addition to serving as a photo editor for USA Today Sports Images.

In the weeks ahead, Jeff will be sharing some of the best photos from the competitions leading up to the Winter Games as well as photographic highlights of Pyeongchang – just as he did two years ago from the Summer Olympics in Rio.

 

The XXIII Winter Olympics is Jeff Swinger’s fourth Olympics assignment for USA TODAY Sports.  He expects the upcoming games to be as rigorous as the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.

 

Trials and event photo coverage includes Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined, speed skating, short-track speed skating and figure skating.  He will also provide some background on what he must do to capture just the right action at just the right time.

To ensure that an event action shot is never lost, USA TODAY Sports photographer Jeff Swinger follows a strict policy that has never failed. He downloads his photos to his computer, backs them up and previews them. It is a routine he encourages everyone on the photo team to follow.

 

While it is perhaps the least glamorous part of being a sports action photographer, Jeff Swinger backs up and stores all of his assignments on his OWC Qx2 storage unit.  Following a strict filing system he developed, he can very quickly access a group of event shots or individual photos from the years of action he has captured and stored.

The U.S. XXIII Olympic Winter Games Alpine Trials

In his years of sports photography, Jeff Swinger has always wanted to shoot downhill and Alpine skiing.  To him, it’s the pinnacle of athleticism and speed.  It’s also really tough on the photographer.

To capture the thrills and spills, he must ski to where experience tells him it’s the best trailside position.  The challenge?  He’s carrying a 50-lb. backpack with all his gear because a rolling bag doesn’t make a lot of sense on snow pack!  The pack not only includes cameras and compact OWC storage, it has a wireless jetpack to send photos to editors in the USAToday Sports central for backup and instant distribution around the globe.

Split-Second Timing – Jeff Swinger, USA TODAY Sports photographer, uses a combination of a digital timer and listening to the skiers as they race down the winding slope to capture just the right moment that delivers maximum interest in the Olympian trials.

 

Jeff carefully selects the most strategic location possible, taking into consideration the challenge of the area for the skier, the best lighting during the event and the lineup of the gates and background.  He skies to his location on the mountain where there are four or five pre-designated airbags the sports photographers stand behind.

Once he’s in position, he straps on full Alpine crampons, so he is steady on the mountain and can focus on the action.  Jeff noted that in addition to getting the best action shots possible, photographers must remember where they’re at – on a slippery, steep incline; and if you slip, you slide down…until you hit something!

Because he is basically blind as the skiers hit the jumps and take to the air, he listens to the sound of the skis scraping around the turn and counts down to capture the skier in full flight.  It’s not an easy task since the skiers are coming at him/past him at 70-plus MPH.

Swinger noted that capturing the skiers and the action just right is incredibly hard.

 

 

Alpine action during the men’s Super G race in the 2017 FIS (Federation Internationale de Ski) Alpine skiing World Cup at Beaver Creek.

 

 

Birds of Prey during the men’s giant slalom race in the 2017 FIS alpine skiing World Cup at Beaver Creek.

 

 

World Cup Skiing during the men’s giant slalom race in the 2017 FIS alpine skiing World Cup at Beaver Creek.

 

Alpine Skiing during the men’s giant slalom race in the 2017 FIS alpine skiing World Cup at Beaver Creek.

 

 

 

 

Action during the training for the men’s downhill in the 2017 FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup at Beaver Creek.

 

 

FIS World Cup Skiing during the men’s downhill race in the 2017 FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup at Beaver Creek.

 

To capture the action, Swinger said you must know the timing of the skiers’ intervals and mentally count down between each skier. You can hear the scratch of the skis on the turn and four seconds later, they should pop over the jump.

With that in mind, he pre-focuses on a spot and waits for the skier to enter his camera frame.

Over his years of shooting skiing action, he often alternates between following a prefocused routine and hammering the shutter to hope one frame will be in focus; or, he uses auto focus in the hope again one frame will be in focus.

He noted that it’s a delicate balance between experience, camera/action knowledge and luck.

Jeff must then quickly review the shots and pick the photos to send to the editor who chooses the best for sharpness, tone, action and immediately distributes the images.

At the end of the day, he downloads all of the shots to his Mac and OWC backup storage.

The U.S. XXIII Olympic Winter Games Figure Skating Trials

 

During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Jeff Springer was shooting his first figure skating event – ice dancing – when he remembered sitting with his mother as a child watching the contenders on Wide World of Sports.

Instead of just second-guessing the judges, as he did as a kid in front of the TV; he realized he had to be in tune with the contestants to capture the athletes so other parents and others around the globe could enjoy the best moments captured with his camera.

“The Olympics is much different from the standard sports I shoot throughout the year,” Jeff noted.  “They have goals, touchdowns, baskets, etc.; but the short- and long-program skater only has one chance to execute his/her routine flawlessly.

“My job is to absolutely make the most of every minute, every situation and share that split-second in time with our audience,” he added.

At this event, Jeff and the other USA Today Sports photographers were able to shoot in close proximity to their laptops.

 

Jeff Swinger, USA TODAY Sports photographer, sets up his Mac and attached OWC storage devices in preparation for artistic ice action at the SLC Sports Complex.

 

Between the groups of skaters, Jeff uploads his photos and quickly sends them for distribution, so outlets have them available in near real-time.

He noted that last year, he moved from his older Mac laptop to a newer refurbished, updated one from OWC.

“I didn’t even know how slow my workflow was until my update,” he noted.  “It not only made my working life easier, it saved me a lot of money and it’s practically like new.”

Mariah Bell (USA) practices for the for the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic at SLC Sports Complex before the trials. 

 

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro (CAN) compete during the pair’s short program in the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in preparation for the Olympic trials at SLC Sports Complex.

 

 

 

An in-camera multiple exposure captures Marin Honda (JPN) as she competes in the short dance program in the U.S. International Figure Skating pre-trials Classic at SLC Sports Complex.

 

Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay (USA) compete in the pair’s free skate dance program in the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in preparation for the Olympic trials at SLC Sports Complex.

 

 

 

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim (USA) compete in the pair’s free skate program in the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic at SLC Sports Complex.

 

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker (USA) compete in their free dance program during the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic leading to the Olympic trials at SLC Sports Complex.

 

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (USA) compete in their free dance program during the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic at SLC Sports Complex.

 

Having a system with USB 3 also made image backups and archives faster to a portable OWC SSD solution.

Once he gets home, he can quickly, reliably and securely transfer files to his OWC RAID systems.

The U.S. XXIII Olympic Winter Games Media Day

 

Living in Park City, Utah, made the U.S. Olympic Media Summit easy on Jeff Swinger’s travel budget because it was held in his hometown.  All major media outlets from around the country had five minutes with each athlete over a three-day period to shoot headshots and lifestyle photos.

 

 

“The pace was fast, furious and hectic,” Jeff recalls. “I had to make certain I got the obligatory headshot, but more importantly I had to capture personality shots that would help people understand the athlete as a real person.  It’s not easy to bring out the uniqueness of the individual when we’re both on a tight schedule.”

 

“By Day 2, I was in my groove and able to make them instantly feel at ease so I could capture  the kind of relatable, ‘real people’ photos USA Today Sports fans enjoy.”

 

Looking back on the media days, he notes just how much he had to focus on the job at hand.

 

“It’s just fun listening to them talk about their years of devotion to the sport, their goals for perfecting their skills and all of their Olympic hopes and dreams,” he commented.  “I may be a little biased, but they are the best of the best!”

 

 

While covering the Olympics and Olympic hopefuls vying for spots on their respective national teams can be as exciting as it sounds, there also is plenty of behind-the-scenes work that goes into delivering exciting Olympic images which Jeff will share as well.

 

 

To ensure people around the world get to enjoy the best winter sports action that Team USA has to offer, Jeff continually backs up his Canon digital shots on his Mac and his OWC Envoy Pro EX.

The U.S. XXIII Olympic Winter Games Ski Jump Trials

 

Like the Alpine skiing contests, the U.S. Ski Jump Olympic Trials were a test of Jeff Swinger’s skiing and photography talents.

This was the first time he climbed the steps of the ski jump, and he was glad that he didn’t have to climb all the way for his photos.  “It’s easier from our vantage point and at the bottom,” he said jokingly.

This is another sport that the photographer can’t see the athletes until they are launched into the air for the jump.

Jeff notes he’s fortunate enough to have a constant view of the ski jumps from his neighborhood where he lives in Park City.  “They bathe the jumps in light every evening – year-round,” he commented, “And it’s very enjoyable to go out and look at them, even when they aren’t covered with snow.”

“Ski jumping is really amazing to watch,” he said.  “You think they would be really high in the air, but they aren’t much more than 10 feet off the ground once they are in the air.”

Jeff noted that ski-jump athletes assume a position completely different from the Alpine skiers.  Alpine skiers don’t want to be airborne for long, so they can cut through the air as if they were in a wind tunnel.

However, the jumpers try to stay in the air as long as possible with “floaty” uniform suits and giant, fat, long skis.

Sarah Hendrickson (7) competes in ski jumping in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Utah Olympic Park.

Jeff’s goal was to shoot each jumper during their training jump and competition jump. Then, he had to hurry down to the bottom to shoot the reaction when their scores and ranking positions were announced.

Sarah Hendrickson (7) reacts to winning the women’s ski jumping competition at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Utah Olympic Park.

Michael Glasder (5) celebrates after winning the men’s ski jump at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Utah Olympic Park.

Sarah Hendrickson (7) celebrates with Abby Ringquist (8) after winning the women’s ski jump and earning her Olympic team spot at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Utah Olympic Park.

The ski jump competition was the finale of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, which wrapped up New Year’s Eve day.

“It was really a nice way to finish off the year,” said Jeff.

All of his shots were transferred from his OWC Envoy Pro EX, and when he had the luxury of time to do another backup, the Mercury On-The-Go Pro.  “It was my faithful backup solution during the Rio Summer Games and never lost a pixel,” he emphasized.

 

And on New Year’s Day, Jeff reviewed all of the shots, cataloged them, stored them and backed them up on his OWC RAID.

Long, Short of It

The U.S. XXIII Olympic Winter Games Speed Skating Trials

 

Speed skating is really two sporting events – Long Track and Short Track – and the trials are normally held over different weekends.

 

While speed racing may seem relatively simple at first, Jeff Swinger, USA Today Sports photographer, notes that the sport has been technically improved from the ice up.

 

The special blades have been improved over the years to minimize friction as the skater speeds around the course.  The special wind-resistant speed suits provide a smooth surface that enables skaters to achieve breathtaking speeds.

 

To improve their performance and reduce resistance even more, some racers swing their arms, while others hold their arms behind their backs.  “They choreograph every move and make it look so effortless,” said Jeff.

 

“For sports photographers like myself, we have to always be where the action is, so we don’t miss anything,” he explained.

 

 

Over the years, Jeff has developed a second-sense when it comes to speed skating and lets his intuition help him select just the right location for capturing the contestants, the action and their reactions.

 

He seldom huddles with many of the photographers who gather just past the finish line to capture the winners as they cross the line; noting that the skaters are moving so fast, the reaction is usually a blur or a huge let-down.

 

Obviously, speed in skate racing is important; but it is different.  In a sprint (500 meter), contestants are going much faster than when they are competing in a 5,000-meter race.  In the long-distance races, skaters pace themselves against the other competitors as well as against themselves.

 

 

At this year’s World Cup and US Olympic trials, the event was promoted as possibly being the fastest ice in the world because multiple world records were broken during the contests.

 

Salt Lake City, Utah hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics and the venues have been rigorously maintained and used by the U.S. speedskating team for training as well as the Worlds Cup.

 

As with NASCAR, speed skating is on an oval track and the action happens everywhere – on the turns and the straight-away.

 

Jeff noted that the long-track races are tightly coordinated with very few breaks during the days activities.  As soon as one race ends, another is ready to begin in just a few minutes.

 

 

Competitors race in the men’s mass start semi-final 2 at Utah Olympic Oval. Mandatory.

 

Ted-Jan Bloemen, of Canada, races the men’s 5000-meter race at Utah Olympic Oval.

 

 

 

“The rapid-response activity makes it difficult for the USA Today Sports photo team to maintain good workflow processing/protection,” said Jeff.  “I have to ingest my images in large batches and then sort/caption/catalog them after the complete event.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of time to track, ingest, caption, transmit and perform a rudimentary backup because we are constantly on deadline.

 

“It makes for a very long day,” he added, “because I also have to carry out a complete backup and backup of the backup … just in case.”

 

Short track speed skating was a different event for Jeff because there were no World Cup races, just the Olympic trials with all of the best U.S. athletes in the sport racing for a spot on the Team.

 

Jeff notes that the short track is similar to the long track … but different.

 

The oval rink is much smaller, making the left turns much tighter and more exciting to watch and capture.

 

The athletes wear special gloves on their left hands because they use the hand to guide/support them as they make the tight turns.

 

In addition, they wear helmets because collisions and crashes are much more common on the ultra-fast, compact-turn course.

 

 

Keith Carroll Jr. (106) crashes in the corner in his heat of the 1500-meter race during the U.S. Olympic Team short track speedskating trials at Utah Olympic Oval.

 

 

A general view of speed skates in the 1500-meter race during the U.S. Olympic Team short track speedskating trials at Utah Olympic Oval.

 

 

Maame Biney (1) reacts to winning the A Final of the 500-meter race, qualifying her for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team at Utah Olympic Oval

 

Short track racers’ suits are different from their long-track counterparts that enable speed while providing optimum safety.

 

Both venues can be dangerous because it is relatively easy to be cut by the blade in a collision or have the suit sliced.

 

Because of the relatively short distance (1500, 500 meters), the action is extremely fast-paced and exciting because skaters are often three-deep trying to overtake the front runners.

 

Jeff pointed out there are a number of disqualifications following crashes as the judges determine which athlete was responsible for the mishap.  Participants want to perform at their absolute peek but also want to be careful they don’t cause a crash and lose their opportunity to compete on the world stage.

 

Jeff noted with obvious glee that he was present to photograph one of the sport’s most historic events when an African American (Maame Biney) qualified for the short track team.

 

“The crowd went wild when she qualified,” Jeff recalled, “and she was absolutely beside herself with joy … so cool! It’s moments like this where you actually see and capture history that make photography so special to me.”

 

 

While the speed skating trials were made special this year for Jeff, he still had a lot of work ahead of him when he returned to his home office.

 

He quickly offloaded all of his photos from the many races; sorted, logged, catalogued and backed them up to his OWC RAID system.

 

“Great and historical shots of what I had captured during the trials have to be saved/protected yet quickly accessible,” he concluded.

The U.S. XIII Olympic Winter Games Nordic Combined Trials

 

 

The Nordic Combined USA Olympic Team trials is a two-day even that Jeff Swinger, USA Today Sports photographer, describes as a particularly interesting event because it is two contests that combine skill and endurance into a single competition – ski jump and cross country.

 

A skier himself, Jeff emphasized that it’s difficult to be perfect in both.

 

In the morning, the competitors perform their jumps.  In the afternoon, they attack the race course

 

The U.S. Olympic organization has an intricate scoring mechanism for the Nordic Combined. They convert the jump scores to a time differential for the race. The skier then has to make up that differential to win in the overall Nordic Combined.

U.S. Bryan Fletcher leads Adam Loomis as they compete in the Cross Country portion of Olympic Nordic Combined Team Trials at Utah Olympic Park.

Jeff’s assignment – get quality photos of the challengers and the action from several different angles to give viewers and readers a complete story of the best of the total event.

 

As the skiers prepared for their jumps, Jeff took up what he hoped would be the best location to capture them in full flight off the jump.

 

“It’s interesting to listen to the announcer when he’s talking about the athlete at the top of the jump,” he noted.  “He will explain that even with a bad jump, the contestant can make up the point difference during the cross country.”

Bryan Fletcher (9) competes in the ski jump portion of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Utah Olympic Park.

That‘s what happened with Bryan Fletcher. He didn’t have a great jump but really turned it on in the race and earned his spot on the Olympic team.

 

Obviously, weather is an important factor in an outdoor winter sports competition; but for this year’s Nordic Combined competition, it was warm and mild.  The contestants had to regulate their temperatures differently than they would if it was cold by shedding clothing as they went and finishing with minimal gear at the finish.

 

The cross country portion was about a 25-minute race–five laps that took the athletes around a hilly track with lots of turns.

Jeff Swinger, USA Today Sports photographer, uses OWC storage to protect his irreplaceable shots.

 

 

For this event, in addition to his ever-present camera(s) and OWC storage devices, Jeff also used his Yak Tracks (removable traction cleats for ice/snow) to get up and down the hill quickly to capture just the right shots.

 

“There were only two challenges for me on this shoot,” he recalled.  “First, the athletes could make it around the track in about five minutes per lap, so you picked your location, got the best action shots possible and instantly took off for the next ‘just right’ location.”

 

His second challenge was that the cross country was being televised and there was a snow mobile with a camera person positioned ahead of the leaders on one portion of the track.

 

“TV always gets the right-of-way,” he grinned, “so I had to pick locations that would let me get photos of the leaders without showing the snow mobile.”

U.S. Bryan Fletcher achieves the fastest time in the Cross Country portion of Olympic Nordic Combined Team Trials at Utah Olympic Park, winning the competition.

Using wide-angle lenses, Jeff was able to capture the participants as they raced past with a beautiful view of the natural preserve and Park City mountains in the background.

 

After two laps, he had to rush to the finish line to get pictures of the athletes as they came into the stadium racing to the finish line.

 

 

U.S. Bryan Fletcher celebrates after winning the Cross Country portion of Olympic Nordic Combined Team Trials at Utah Olympic Park and sealing a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team.

Jeff noted that in endurance races, the skiers generally sprint at the end, spending all of the energy they have left.

 

Many of the athletes collapse, physically and emotionally drained, after crossing the finish line  for the Cross Country portion of the Olympic Nordic Combined Team Trials at Utah Olympic Park.

Andy Marken

Andy is Owner and President of Marken Communications Inc. a Marketing and Communications Consultant, located in the San Francisco area in August 1977 to Present.Marken Communications is a full-service agency that concentrates on business/market planning, positioning, development, and communications. The 30 year agency has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Experience includes strategic and market planning and execution with communications and Internet firms including AT&T and CERFnet as well as in storage, storage management and video solutions with firms including Philips, InterVideo, Ulead, OWC, NewerTech, Sonic, Corel, Matsushita, Pinnacle, Dazzle, Cyberlink, Mountain Computer, Nikon, Plasmon, NTI, ADS Tech, Verbatim, Mitsubishi and Panasonic.
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