Monday, July 21, 2008

As close to Beijing as I'll ever get

"U.S. Olympic Whitewater team member Benn Fraker of Charlotte, Nc., flips back over after losing control of his kayak during a whitewater slalom practice run. The team held their final tuneup before Beijing at Adventure Sports Center International in McHenry, Md., Wednesday, July 16."

My trip odometer read 204 miles and my wrist watch showed three-hours and 10 minutes. As I sat in the parking lot at Adventure Sports Center International in McHenry, Md., I thought only 6,680 more miles to Beijing.

Briefing through the photo assignments of the week on Monday, I got urged to try and scoop up the U.S. Olympic Whitewater team tuneup one last time before Beijing.

Olympics? Practice? In Maryland? I was going to jump all over it, as the closest I'd get to Beijing would be reading about local town hero Michael Phelps in the sports section.

I didn't have much time to look deeply into the assignment, as at that very moment I was handed the in-house phone and on the line with the assignment editor. He didn't give me a definitive answer at that time, but everyone in the photo area said that I would probably get it.

I brushed it off assuming one the staffed sports veterans would get to cover what could be one of the last few Olympic stories before the start of the summer games.

Then on Tuesday morning, I got word that my name had been placed on the assignment. I couldn't have been happier. My first sports assignment and that I was given this dominant assignment so early in my internship.

However, there was a catch. The assignment was far out west, on the western tip of the state and over three-hours away. While the practice started at 9:00 a.m., meaning I had to set my alarm clock for 4:00 a.m., I was still super excited that they had trust in me to shoot the assignment.

The night before I made sure I had all my gear and everything was fully charged. I made some food, threw it in a cooler and went to bed awaiting the trip to McHenry, Md.

Following the boring drive through what some may call mountains (I've been to Colorado many times, they have "mountains") I finally arrived. I had done some research on the whitewater team, but mostly on Adventure Sports Center International, which is home to the world’s only mountain-top whitewater course. Yeah, it was man-made.

Once I got settled and closed my jaw following my amazement with this man-made river that sat atop a ski resort, I began shooting.

I met up with the writer and found that I only really needed images of U.S. Olympian kayaker Scott Parsons of Bethesda, Md.

He and his teammates, including pictured Benn Fraker, were running through their final tuneup before Beijing.

Parsons is going into the Summer Games ranked ninth in the world. At the Athens Olympics, he placed sixth.

For a little under an hour, Parsons and Fraker made runs down the top half of the course. I used everything from a pole remote camera, an underwater point-and-shoot, to the paper's 200-400mm lens for panning images and other lenses to get some photos for the paper.

The day was perfect and I was really happy with my take on the assignment. I wish it would have lasted longer though. I also wish I could have made some passes myself and that I would have remembered to charge my underwater Canon G9, too.

The pictures ended up on the Saturday and Sunday front sports page and I couldn't have asked for a better sports assignment. It was nothing I've ever done before, and the opportunity to get such an assignment was a great experience.


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