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Finding my place

February 8, 2014 - Chris Knight
I followed the signs marked "Photo Positions" until they took me under what I assumed were the spectator stands at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center. It's hard to know, if you're an Olympic first-timer like me, exactly where you are sometimes in these massive venues.

The path was a series of wooden steps nailed on each side to a pair of long beams, basically a makeshift stepladder laying across the ground. As I climbed up these steps, I came to a place where I could keep going straight or turn left up a narrow path toward daylight. I chose left, figuring I should see where I was.

When I poked my head out into the sun, there were two railings on either side of me, and a couple Russian volunteers, clad in their Sochi 2014 blue jackets, standing on each side. There were no other photographers here.

This wasn't the bleachers, I realized. I was standing in between the snow-covered out-runs of the two massive ski jumps, the K-95 and the K-125.

Training on the normal hill, the smaller of the two, was still going on. I figured I had about 15 seconds before I was told I wasn't supposed to be here, so I better start shooting. Still standing between the railings, I took as many pictures as I could of the next couple jumpers. It was so close to the action, I could see the snow fly when they touched down and listen to the high-pitched whistling of their skis as they zoomed past me.

Nobody said anything for about five minutes. Then, a friendly Russian volunteer told me I couldn't stand in between the jumps. I had to get behind the railing of the bigger jump, the K-125. "Cool," I thought. "He's not kicking me out."

I stayed for a few minutes, but not much longer, because I was still trying to figure out where an in-venue press event with the U.S. men's ski jumping team, scheduled for noon Friday, was supposed to take place. I had already been up and down the multiple flights of stairs between the media center and the jumps twice, getting a workout, looking for the team's press officer and asking anyone I could where this event was supposed to be.

I wasn't alone. Lake Placid photographer Nancie Battaglia was trying to find it, too. We chatted in the media center for a bit and promised to reconnect if either one of us found out what was going on. That's when I started exploring around. I climbed up to the broadcast platform and took a few pictures there. I wasn't supposed to be there, but nobody stopped me. Earlier, I tried to get near the finish area, but was told photographers can only move into those positions in between the jumping rounds.

It's easy to get intimidated covering an event like this with volunteers and security staff everywhere. But I've learned quickly to just keep walking, pretend like you know where you're going and don’t stop unless somebody tells you to stop. Even some of the people working the games, I've found, will knowingly let you bend the rules to help you do your job.

When I visited the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center on Wednesday, one of the lower level press managers told me I wouldn't be able to get into the so-called mix zone to talk with the athletes because I had an "EP" credential. The "E" means I'm a writer, and the "P" is for photographer, but the "P" trumps the "E" at the Olympics, he explained to me, so I'm a photographer and I can't go in the mix zone.

That would have been a major problem. Getting photos is great, but without talking to the athletes, I wouldn't be able to write my stories. We went down the hall and talked to the biathlon venue's press manager, the big boss so to speak, and got a completely different answer. He didn't have any problem with me getting in the mix zone. It will only help to tell the stories of the athletes, he said. Phew!

Eventually, Nancy and I did find the U.S. men's ski jumping team on Friday. They came through the mix zone and chatted with reporters. It was great to see and talk with Peter Frenette, of course, along with two other jumpers with local connections, Anders Johnson and Nick Alexander. I was finally in the right place at the right time.


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