Day 89 – Australia (4 September, 2000)
Working from our ‘Feature Torchbearer’ list and ‘Photo Opps’ list each day, I would plan my day of where I should be and how to get there (eg. stay within the convoy on the Media Motorhome, get a lift ahead to get a better vantage point for a special moment etc). I pride myself on never missing one of these important moments on the entire 115 days of relay.
But there were a few close moments where I ‘almost’ missed it. One was the aforementioned flight (literally) from the dance floor in Queensland. The other that stands out was on Day 89. One of the listed ‘feature’ torchbearers for the day was Michael Knight. He was the Olympic Minister. So, technically, he was my ultimate boss – so I’d better get a shot of him with the Olympic Flame!
I had read my briefing notes the night before as usual, and knew he was running in the morning. But I got caught out by a change of vehicle departures from our hotel. I was planning on a getting a lift with one of the spare drivers – but that driver left early, without me. Oops. Our hotel was only about 15km from where I needed to be to shoot the Olympic Minister. But he was due to run in about 25 minutes. Shit. Bugger. Shit. Everyone else had already left. I needed a taxi. Mercifully a taxi arrived in less than 5 minutes and I gave him the location.
But after about 3 kms we hit traffic. Not traffic – but gridlock. Exactly what I expected. The roads were blocked. Police were diverting traffic. Without thinking, I told the taxi driver to overtake on the other side of the road.This is what we did every day in official convoy vehicles. The public saw us and moved aside, the police waved us through. But this time I was in an everyday taxi.
“I can’t do that mate – they’ll fine me”.
“No – seriously, you can do it, I know all the police – they’ll let me through”.
But he wasn’t convinced. I thought about legging it – but I’d miss the the Olympic Minister’s run and probably have a heart attack after 10kms.
“Trust me – look – I’m the official photographer’ I said showing him my accreditation badge.
He took a deep breathe and gingerly pulled out onto the wrong side of the road. Slowly, then with more confidence we whizzed past hundreds of cars. When we got to the first police road block I leaned my head out of the window and waved my accreditation and mumbled some words and we were let through without questions.
I looked at my watch. We were almost there – but the Minister was running at 10.36am (yes, the timing really is that precise!) and it was already 10.31am. I could here the chatter on the two way radio – and they were saying they were on time. Damn it.
At 10.33 my taxi, now in full relay mode reached the back of the official convoy of vehicles (the pickup bus and its support police car). Normally I would radio in and ask permission to over-take the bus and get up close to the media motor home about 800m ahead. But things were different today. Crowds were bigger. Vehicle movements were more strictly controlled within and around the convoy. Plus I was in a a taxi!
That would have been a first – asking to overtake in a taxi. No – I’d have to use my own two feet for the last 800m. I paid the taxi driver, jumped out and sprinted ahead. It was 10.34
I could see the relay ahead of me. The torchbearer running with the Flame was number 61. The Olympic Minister was number 62.
I sprinted past him. My backpack of camera gear flopping and banging on my back. I had already prepared my camera in the taxi, so it was all ready to shoot.
The crowds were enormous. They probably wondered why this guy had just sprinted out of a taxi, right past the torchbearer carrying the flame.
I reached the Media Motorhome and, completely out of breathe, jumped onboard. The media girls on board knew not to ask any questions, they just cleared a spot for me to shoot from – and at 10.36am I started firing away as Mr Michael Knight held his torch up high, exchanged the flame from number 61 then slowly jogged down the road. Apart from my deep breathing, it looked as if I was in place to shoot his moment all morning. 400m later and he handed it off to number 63 and it was all over.
I got plenty of shots. All pretty boring – he is just a politician after all. But I got what I needed none the less. Then I collapsed on the lounge and drank a litre of water before picking up the camera again to keep recording the other highlights of the day. Another near-miss averted!