When a fencing photo creates a traffic jam of people in the Los Angeles Times main press center, you know you’ve captured excellence.
“Not only was it a stunning photo, it was even more so because somebody actually had taken time to bother shooting a sport that, even on an international level, is considered boring and too technical and is generally ignored,” said editor John Carroll.
The fencer’s Michael Jordan leap was just one of the many amazing moments captured by Times photographers Wally Skalij, Robert Gauthier and Kirk McKoy during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
“The Olympics is a sporting event that happens every two years,” said McKoy. “It is an assignment every sports photographer dreams of covering. The best gladiators from every country meeting face to face for the bragging rights to say who is faster, stronger, the most fit and knowledgeable of their field. Countries set aside their differences, and even their conflicts, to compete.”
For the wins, the Times team caught U.S. softball player Lisa Fernandez’s victory home run, American swimmer Michael Phelps’ unstoppable strokes and U.S. gymnast Carly Patterson’s top scores.
“It’s helped me see sports in a different and creative way,” said Skalij. “Watching the athletes dedicating most of their lives training for this one moment is truly an inspiration, and hopefully that will feed me in my professional career.”
The team also caught the downs – American gymnast Paul Hamm’s fall off stage after dismounting from the vault, and U.S. star runner Marion Jones’ fumbled baton handoff in the 400-meter women’s relay.
“Since the Olympics graced Los Angeles in 1932, and again in 1984, it has been a mandate and a source of pride for the Los Angeles Times to lift its coverage above the rest,” said Carroll. “Clearly, its photo team followed that mandate in Athens.”
All three photographers said shooting the Olympic Games was both a challenge and an honor.
“Sports photography is sometimes more psychologically demanding as it is physically,” said Gauthier. “The pressure of putting yourself into the correct position to capture the critical moment is often overwhelming. When I’m able to do all the right things to capture the big play, there’s hardly a greater feeling.”