Torchbearers were chosen for their heroic lives and accomplishments. It was an honour to watch them each day. They always showed a determined spirit to succeed.
A simple example of this is John White. John had leukaemia and then broke his leg a few days before he was due to carry the Flame. And on that morning, at 8.15am in Manjimup, WA, it was cold and started to rain. But John wasn’t going to let any of that stop him, or even slow him down. A great inspiration for us all…
Travelling across the length and breadth of Australia, I was always on the look out for interesting and iconic moments to include in the visual story of the Torch Relay. The team had spent over two years planning the route and including as many great ‘photo opportunities’ as they could. But there was always room for more. I would always keep in contact with the advance teams (the crew that traveled ahead of the relay setting up and preparing for the actual relay day). They were an important source of intel of what was coming up ahead and what things I should be keeping an eye out for. Some were traveling a day or two ahead of us, while others were only 20 minutes ahead. Both were great sources of information. And the more we work on the relay, the more they understood why I needed to get great shots.
One aspect of travelling along Australian roads that everyone experiences is road kill. Kangaroos, wombats, galahs, snakes – all manner of wildlife come to an untimely end while trying to cross highways. The advance team and local councils did their best to keep our route clear and clean so we didn’t come across a grissly scene with the Olympic Flame. But our mischievous side (and boredom setting in from long days on roads that looked the same) was kicking in. And I had quietly put the word out that I wouldn’t mind an ‘unusual shot’ with road kill. One day I got a call that there was one up ahead – but it was not on a part of the actual route. Which explains why it was still lying there (if it was on a route, it would have been cleared already).
But this was my chance – so I got a lift to the location and shot a few frames. Now the ‘torchbearer’ was not real – he was a crew member. And the torch was not lit. So it was a complete set up and something I could never send to media – but it was a ‘unique and iconic’ torch relay image, even if just for our own morbid, internal use.
We had by now entered in the state of Victoria. I’d been shooting torch bearers and nothing but torchbearers for 57 days. Each day there were over 100 torchbearers carrying the Flame. I didn’t have to shoot every one of them. But there was a system for who I should aim for.
First there was a ‘feature torchbearer list’. This was a list prepared a week in advance by our media department to highlight which torchbearers were either famous or had been selected for some extraordinary story or quality. There were usually 5 or 6 names on this daily list.
The list I worked from was the ‘Photo Opportunity List’. This list highlighted any special location we would be passing by or stopping at (such as riding a camel on Cable Beach, or taking the Flame underwater at Great Barrier Reef).
As discussed earlier, the photo opps didn’t always work well due to bad light, not enough time, poor choice of torchbearer etc. And the ‘feature torchbearer’ was not always that interesting either. But they were the must gets of each day. Everything else throughout the day was whatever I could turn into a compelling image. We then started discussing what would make a shot of a torchbearer more dynamic. Something more than what 1,000 torchbearers before them had not done.
And it came to us in one word – ‘JUMP!’.
I tried out this new concept on a torchbearer we knew well. I briefed him to ‘jump as high as he could as he ran with the Flame’. So when his moment came he called out ‘are you ready?’ and I yelled back ‘JUMP!”. And so started a trend
For the next 49 days we encouraged the shuttle hosts (the team that brief the torchbearers and dropped them off on the side of the road ahead of us) to tell their torchbearers to jump for the photographers and you’d get your photo in the newspapers (maybe).
It certainly made our day a bit more exciting to photograph and created some dynamic photos. It was generally only the young ones that jumped for us – though a few older torchbearers got in on the fun too. The trick was to know to expect it. There was no point jumping if the photographers weren’t ready to capture the millisecond moment suspended in the air. So the shuttle hosts would call me and tell me which torchbearers had said they would jump. Then when they were carrying the Flame we were poised, ready to shoot. And if they were a little reluctant we’d all scream out ‘JUMP, JUMP!” and they’d go for it. And so here is a gallery dedicated solely to our ‘jumpers’.
The crew, who numbered over 100 on most days, all wore a uniform. Some wore it better than others. But it helped us to identify each other in a large crowd and from a distance on the side of a road.
The other part of the ‘uniform’ that was invaluable was the two- way radio system. It was vital that we all knew what was happening. The convoy itself stretched over 1km from lead vehicle to tail police car. Plus there were others moving hours ahead to set up special locations. For me it was the best source of information. I knew exactly where the flame was and so knew how much time I had to get a particular shot. While public waited on the side of the road for hours, or other cameramen waiting nervously, not wanting to miss the moment, I could be as cool as a cucumber knowing where and when the real action would take place. It was my guardian angel. I could even communicate with the team to tell them if I had any special needs for a particular shot. If I wanted everyone to stay 20m back from a torchbearer so I could get a clean shot, I would just radio through the request.
In many ways I felt spoilt. Having a front row seat to every single moment of the relay and having the power to ask for special things could appear like I was being treated like a king. But I had to keep reminding myself that it was not me that they were treating like a VIP – but my camera. I just happened to be attached to the camera. It probably gets forgotten and some may feel envious of me – but the reality is that its all about getting a great shot so that even now – 16 years later, the whole world can see the event from the best angle.
But I did try my best to act with humility and be thankful for the unique position I was afforded. A lot of my photo credit should go to the team who made sure I was in the right place at the right time to shoot the best shots, every day of the relay. Often I would get driven ahead, or helped onto a chase boat to get special access to shoot from, only to have the person that sweated to get me there left behind. Often they never got to see the Flame at all.
The whole event was a massive team effort – but I felt especially supported and privileged to be put in the front row at the sacrifice of others being left behind. And for that, I hope my photos make them proud of what they worked so hard for.
There where countless funny stories of working on the relay. On the subject of two-way radios, one story that I alway remember was this:
One crew member was having a particularly hard day. She was working off two, constantly ringing, mobile phones plus her two-way radio headset. Fed up, she called a friend back home and was venting all her frustrations; life, work, the relay. Really getting it off her chest. She was pacing up and down, arms folded, talking into her mobile phone. This is all perfectly acceptable. Life on the road can have its ups and downs. And it helps to get things off your chest. But what she didn’t realise, that by crossing her arms, she was pressing on her two-way talk button! Her conversation was going live across the whole team radio. It took one of the crew to call her other phone, which thankfully she answered, to alert her. She was mortified.
And I remember that lesson every time I plug into a two way radio at work…
Our convoy of officially branded vehicles stretched on for kilometres. Generally I was transported around the relay by others (after mostly giving up on using the Harley Davidson as discussed earlier). I was either onboard the luxurious Media Motorhome (or its poorer remote cousins) or being driven ahead in a sedan, or hanging on to the side of a boat, or a train, or an aeroplane.
I also did quite a bit of running – keeping ahead of torchbearers, running beside them in the ‘run-turn-shoot-run’ ballet I had almost perfected. I certainly got fit along the way. But nowhere near as fit as the police security runners who ran with the torchbearers every step of every day. Somedays they clocked up over 50km of running. They were usually working in a pile of sweat for most of the day (you’ll see them in almost every standard shot I took). The other group that ran more than most were the young ‘escort runners’ – school kids specially selected to escort between 5 and 10 torchbearers. So where a torchbearer would run 800m, The escorts would do 8km. It worked most times because a. they were young and fit kids and b. there was usually a combination of slow torchbearers (older people who could only walk) and more energetic joggers. So it was not an 8km sprint.
Except for one unlucky girl. This poor escort runner lucked out when she seemed to get sprinting torchbearer after sprinting torchbearer. The final straw was when the she got to her 6th torchbearer who was about 16 years old, built like a rake and clearly ready to ‘go for it’. He shot off with the Flame. Already worn out, she took about 20 paces before pulling a face that said it all, and abandoned the relay to unceremoniously throw up on the side of the road and retire from the event. It was funny to watch, but also heartbreakingly bad luck for her.
Nothing good comes from snowy places. I know this as a fact based on my experience trying to shoot the relay in New Zealand’s ski fields 70 days ago. But here we were again in the snow, this time at Mount Hotham in Victoria.
We did the snow mobile and skier thing again – but I was more grounded this time – no riding shotgun on anything.
Overnight there was a huge dump of snow and we awoke with a real problem of how to dig our vehicles out fo 6 inches of snow and drive back down the mountain.
The roads were treacherous – and subsequently our media motor home slide of the road while I was in it. We ended up at a 45 degree angle. No casualties. But just another acknowledgement that nothing good ever happens in the snow.
Another favourite visual moment of the relay for me. This one is at Broken Hill in NSW. It was all in the timing again so that we arrived at the spot a few minutes past sunset. I had two options for this – use flash and try and show the torchbearers (Nathan Harrington) face, or go for a more dramatic silhouette. I shot both ways. We were there for exactly 2 minutes and 50 seconds and I shot 18 frames before running off to more relaying.
Beside the never ending search for the perfect torchbearer photo the other target I had was the crowd watching the torchbearers. Right from the start of the relay in Guam I was always on the lookout for interesting crowd photos. Unfortunately, newspapers aren’t so interested in these shots so the focus has to always be on getting a great torchbearer shot first, and if the crowd can be included in that same from all the better. So it became a side project of mine, capturing the amazing faces on the sides of the roads.
Often it was the kids faces that were the most expressive. But sometimes it was the older generation. One of my favourite character faces is this shot of an old lady in Broken Hill, NSW.
I was waiting on the side of the road for the torchbearer to run up the hill to get this shot:
when I noticed this lady standing at her front gate. I’m not sure which image I prefer from that moment…
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!
As we got closer to Sydney and the Opening ceremony date of 15 Sept, the crowd grew and grew. Some days were out of control with crowds swamping the roads and extra police called in to allow us to keep moving forward and on time. And as we got into these bigger crowds I tended to stay more within the safe confines of the media motorhome. This was for a number of reasons.
In the early days of the relay I could shoot most of the day then drive ahead to the hotel to connect to a phone line and email 4 or 5 images out to newspapers and news agencies. But now newspapers were demanding more images and more frequently as they published multiple editions of their papers.
And higher numbers of famous and noteworthy Torchbearers were running though out the day. It was impossible to leave the relay to get to a hotel and back again without missing too much of the important action. So I had my lumbering laptop and mobile phone connection set up in the media motorhome permanently and spent the whole day running back to it every 30 minutes to try and send another image. It was always a frustrating experience trying to connect via mobile phone at 9.6k or slower and being kicked off the network at 90% of the upload and then having to start agin for zero – but that was what was required.
The main objective of my role was to help generate media interest in the event. I was succeeding in that – but feeding the beast was an exhausting exercise.
The main media home for the 100 days around Australia was relatively comfortable. It was weather proof and had power.
Some of our other ‘media trucks’ were not quite so comfortable. On the Oceania islands it was any flat bed truck or ute (pick up truck) available. On some remote sections of Australia where we flew into and out of there was a random selection of vehicles. The funniest was in Dalby, Queensland where they provided us with a semi-trailer truck – and there was just 4 of us riding on it! It tended to obscure the view for the public too…
Arriving in Canberra, the Flame was nervous. The attempted assassination on its life at Uluru 92 days ago was suddenly fresh in everyones mind again. Because the culprit was going to be handling the Flame once again…
In a low key ceremony we were to take the Flame into the grounds of Yarralumla – the official residence of the Governor General. And yes, the Governor General was going to be handling the Flame again. But this time the Flame Security boss planned to keep the precious safety lantern with the backup Flame well away from him. So when the time came, the Governor General was handed an already lit torch by Chris. Crisis averted.
The real magic of the moment was the guest appearance by the greatest living legend, Nelson Mandela.
It was not an officially scheduled moment with Mandela. He happened to be staying at the residence on the day and agreed to be part of the ceremony on the lawn. For me it was a great moment to be so close to such an historic world leader. It sounds strange, but you cant help but feel slightly enlightened just by being close to him.
Photographically it was a bit hit and miss. As he was technically not here for the Torch Relay, there was no properly choreographed moment with Mandela and the Flame. He was sitting in the front row of the small audience. Then the Governor General walked up to him with the torch. Mandela stood and for all of ¼ second, put his hand on the torch, then sat down again. I got a shot. Not a great shot. But it was the best anyone could hope for in the moment. He spent more time holding babies and shaking hands. None the less, a great moment of my life.
As I mentioned earlier, getting a good shot of what the whole event was about, the Flame, was really tough – especially in broad daylight. It was luck of the draw with wind direction, background (a dark background would best show the flame) and general contrast of the scene. But occasionally we got more than we bargained for (that phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’ comes up again).
With 12,000 torches manufactured there was always bound to be a few abnormalities here and there. The one that stood out was when the Flame got somewhat larger and fiercer than was designed.
This is a good example of how that plays out:
No one ever got injured. And it probably happened less than a dozen times. But it was spectacular. Being on the ‘official’ side of the event, it was never an image I would release to the media. I wouldn’t call it negative press, but it would be a distraction for all the good moments of the event. And as I said – no one ever got injured or burnt and it happened so infrequently (12 in 12,000) it wasn’t really an issue. But a visually dramatic photo none the less.
After a really long day running through the suburbs of Sydney with more famous torchbearers than you can pock a stick at, we had an extra event to attend late in the night. After Prime Minster John Howard made his speech at the evening celebration site at Gladesville in front of tens of thousands of torch relay fans, instead of taking the Flame back to our hotel we jumped into a small convoy of vehicles and traveled into the city to take the flame up to the very top of the highest building in Sydney – Sydney (AMP) Tower. It just so happened that AMP were a major sponsor of the Torch Relay…
So up the lift, then up another 5 flights of stairs and we were out on the roof of the tower, 260m above ground.
Again, as a media moment, it was a bit hit and miss. Our torchbearer was Vera Ipiniche. I’m not sure what she did/does – but it was a bit of a shame to have such an iconic moment with all of Sydney laid out as a backdrop but not to have an iconic person holding the Flame.
But then it didn’t matter so much because the wind was so strong it was almost impossible to stand up or pose in any sort of meaningful way. It was also a bit of a messy area to be shooting from. And my camera was absolutely terrible in low light so trying to match the torchbearer, the Flame and the city lights all in one frame was never going to be a great success. But I got a few shots to record the moment.
The entertaining part of the experience was trying to take the Flame off the cauldron and back into the safety lantern. The wind was so strong it blew the wick out every time we tried to do the transfer. We tried blocking the wind with bodies. Then someone found a plank of wood in the stairwell and we used that as a wind shield. After about 15 minutes we finally got it back in its safety lantern and we left.
A Very Big Day
The last few days of the relay were big. Enormous crowds lining the route – often 10 deep. We were starting at 6.30am and the last Torchbearer was at 7pm. Over 12 hours of constant emotion, cheers, gridlock, and tears of joy.
Just after the lunch celebration site at La Perouse, I got transported ahead to Coogee Beach for a special segment of the relay. We were taking the Flame onboard a surf life saving boat from Coogee to Bondi. Waiting on the beach were a flotilla of boats and rowing crews.
Two Torchbearers, Chris Allum and Jessie Miley-Dyer were the lucky two to be carrying the Flame. We started off through the crashing waves, although the surf wasn’t too big that day, keeping a light torch up and out of the surf is not the easiest thing to do. The crowd at Coogee was a good size, but when we came round the headland to see the crowd on Bondi it was frightening.
The entire beach was covered with people. The crowd spilled into the sea, waist deep. Bondi is not my favourite beach, even though it is an Australian icon. But seeing the crowds, the newly erected beach volleyball stadium and the flotilla of surf life saving boats made me very proud in a weird sort of way.
Photographically, it was a huge challenge to shoot from a small motor boat as we jockeyed for positioned amongst the waves splashing over our bow to get a good shot. And there was a lot of competition from other camera crews too. With one day to go before the Olympic Opening Ceremony the whole city was awash with media crews from all round the world. Two offical camera boats followed, plus our torch relay boat, plus about 4 police security boats plus another 6 police jet skis. Another 5 or 6 boats were trying to get close to the action – with the police jet skis pushing them away.
Up in the air, there was just as much action. I counted 7 helicopters hovering above us. I wasn’t sure Sydney had 7 helicopters – but there they were, all hovering, almost all with cameras filming from inside them. It was a crazy, crazy moment to think of all this intense attention on such a simple Flame, carried by an unknown duo of young people, Chris and Jessie.
The journey took 39 minutes. I shot 80 frames, just trying to get something in frame as our boat bumped over the waves out of sync with the surf life saving boats bumping over the waves. I’m not sure if any one image captures the moment in its fullest – but it sure was one crazy ride.
Landing on Bondi beach was terrifying. Our boat stayed out so I could shoot Jessie’s landing, and all I could see was her being swamped by the crowds. I don’t remember how it actually happened, but my next series of shots is of the next torchbearer running up the beach. I guess I was dropped off and somehow managed to make my way to the front of the crowds pretty quickly.
Next I was driven ahead of the relay again and dropped at the Sydney Opera House for the next big moment of the day. The first photo opp was at the steps of the Opera House – which looked spectacular with its Olympic branding in full splendour. This was the location for the Olympic triathlon bike/run transition.
Security was really tight but I was let through to get a good vantage point – the annoyance of the other 20 or so photographers that had had to camp out in their cordoned-off area for the last 3 hours. I had arrived with 9 minutes to spare (cutting everything fine as we battled though traffic from Bondi to the Harbour).
The Flame arrived, blind opera singer Andrea Bocelli paused for about 30 seconds then moved on. And so I moved on – overtaking it behind the Opera House walkway to get in position for the hero moment with tennis legend Pat rafter and music legend Olivia Newton-John.
Again I was guided into the front row of the media pen (where photographers and been crammed in since 4pm).
While the Opera House steps looked spectacular dressed for the occasion, the tiny stage set up for the Rafter/Newton John moment looked like it was an afterthought. Not even a black skirting around the base of the wheel-on stage. I think the government-run Opera House set up this stage – while the Opera House Steps was an Olympic committee set-up. ‘Underwhelming’ is the nicest way to describe it.
I had about 6 minutes to catch my breathe before they released Olivia to run from the back of the Opera House and out into the full view of the public. She and Pat got a roar of appreciation from the massive crowds. As they exchanged the Flame, the Sydney Harbour Bridge light up with the Olympic rings (and a few feeble pyros off the pylons at each end). It was a warm and fuzzy moment for all.
Photographically it was a challenge for me. My camera was severely hampered low light situations, and using flash to light the stage (which was about 10m away) sucked the energy of my batteries pretty fast. I couldn’t shoot as much as I wanted while I waited a few seconds between each flash fire for it to recharge. It went from 2 seconds between frames to waiting 8 seconds between frames as the big external battery pack struggled to keep up – which is an excruciating long time to wait to shoot when the never to be repeated action is happening in front of you. I knew it was not the best coverage I could have got out of the moment – but I was on such a massive schedule of events that I was literally running from one magic moment to the next and doing the best I could to record it all faithfully on the under-developed camera technology I had at the time.
After a full 2minutes and 50 seconds, the moment was over and Pat ran off with the Flame heading towards the Town Hall. Again, I was on my feet and running to overtake him to get ahead for more shots. I was the only photographer allowed to do this. All the others were held back in the media pen by security. It allowed me to shoot so many multiple big torch relay moments. All other photographers had to pick a location, turn up hours earlier and wait to get that one moment. The Flame headed up George St towards the Town Hall, and the crowd were 15 or 20 deep. It was just a crazy scene. Police were out in force keeping crowds behind barriers.
The torchbearer to carry the Flame up George St was all time swimming legend Dawn Fraser. But to be honest, after Bondi, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge moments, this was a little underwhelming for me. Yes, the crowds went crazy, but their wasn’t a photographic impact to any of it. It was just a lot of police, crowds, escort runners and camera crews. Hmmm.. reading that I realised how jaded I must have been at the time to find that mix underwhelming.
But that is what being front row as official photographer on the Olympic Torch Relay did to you. After a while, even big, spectacular, crowd frenzy moments feel ‘normal’. I later read that police estimated that 1 million people had crammed into the Sydney downtown area for that night. It felt like it too. But for us, for me, it was another long, long day of crowds and emotion.
“100 days! 100 fucking days!”. I had to pinch myself that I had made it through this magical journey. It was 4.30am and I still had one final day left to shoot. I had only gotten to bed 3 hours earlier. But I was ecstatic. What a journey this had been. And more than 100 days. With the Oceania leg of the relay I had covered 125 days. I had taken a total of 4 days off in the whole period. But the energy surrounding the event kept me going – even this morning, with just over 3 hours sleep.
The last big moment I covered was golfing great, Greg Norman, carrying the flame across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. His slot was for 6.46am Torchbearer number 22 for the day. I got dropped off ahead of the torch relay at the location Greg was to start his run. At 6.28am he was dropped off, waiting, ready with his torch. I fire off a few test frames to check my camera was working for the day. It was still dark. There was just me, Greg and 3 other torch relay crew to wait with him. It was a very quiet time. The police had blocked 3 lanes on the bridge to allow safe passage.
We had predicted some good media interest in the moment – mainly because it was the iconic Olympic Flame crossing the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge – and Greg Norman was a national hero. An additional media truck had been put on to allow for extra media to film the event. The media motor home, as big and luxurious as it was, could only fit about 8 cameraman shooting out the back of it. The flat bed truck held another 20 cameramen.
Within 12 minutes, of Greg Norman being dropped off, we suddenly had a crowd of fans. I’m not sure where they came from – because the bridge has pretty bad access for pedestrians, and there was a major train line separating the walkway from the road we were waiting on. Minute by minute the crowds got bigger. We radioed back to the approaching convoy of the situation and a dozen or more police were quickly brought up to keep the crowds under control. By 6.46am, when the Mayor of Sydney jogged up to Greg Norman with the Flame, the police had virtually closed the entire bridge traffic (all 8 lanes) as well as shutting down the train lines. Crowds were crossing the train tracks, climbing the bridge gantry, anything to get to see Greg Norman and the Flame up close. It was an amazing sight.
With the Flame now in the hands of Greg, he set off slowly across the bridge. Police surrounded the cocooned torchbearer space as media and public all tried to get a closer look. With my privileged access I kept myself tight inside the security cordon and walked backwards, firing off shots as Greg and escort runner Lucy Polkinghorn shuffled slowly forward. The crowd was so dense that the second media truck could not get close to the action, leaving over 20 irate cameramen 15m behind the action without hope of a single clear shot. Greg handled it well, high-fiving the crowd as smiling the whole way. Lucy was enjoying it just as much.
It took 5 minutes and 48 seconds for the Flame to cross the bridge in the hands of Greg Norman. I shot 46 frames of the moment. It was a challenge again, staying focussed, crouched down, walking backwards as the crowds roared and shoved, and the police strained to keep everything safe and moving forward. My camera and flashed struggled in the pre-dawn light. But I got enough coverage to showcase the moment. It was the last day of the never to repeated Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay and I was happy to have finished with such a special iconic moment in my home town, on that famous bridge that has been part of my life since I was born.
I finished out the day at Taronga Zoo with a few koalas and and kangaroos – but really, the magic for me was done. The next big Flame moment would take place inside the Olympic Stadium that evening. But I would not need to shoot that event. My reward for such a long and draining project was a reserved seat (with some of the other Torch Relay crew members) inside the stadium to watch the Opening Ceremony as a spectator.
So after filing my last few photos and transmitting them to news agencies and newspapers around the world, I sat back and enjoyed the magical show that was the Sydney 2000 Olympic Opening Ceremony. And I was proudest when the crescendo of the whole ceremony was the arrival of the Olympic Flame. I was humbled to think the journey that I had witnessed and photographed was all leading to this incredible moment in time – witnessed by over a billion people around the world. I could not have asked for a better of more fitting end to my journey.
The Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay happened 16 years ago. I may have forgotten things (well – I know I have forgotten a lot!). I may have misremembered a few things. And I have certainly left a lot of details out. So much more happened than I have mentioned here – that would take ten books to recount the full story.
My story is based on memories that are triggered by the photos I took. Looking at them today brings back distinct recollections of tiny moments in time. If it was not for my 25,000+ photos I doubt I would remember much of 16 years ago.
As I have said before, it was a massive team effort. I owe much of much access to these amazing moments to the supporting torch relay crew.
After this relay, I went on to photograph a few more relays in different parts of the world – but those stories are for another time. Now its time to for me get back to my work. I hope you enjoyed the recollections and remastered photos. Share your thoughts and comments with me.
Rise of the Camera Phone
Looking through the photos and analysing the crowds, one thing that really stands out is the total lack of phone cameras (which obviously werent invented in 2000). Everyone in the crowd is enjoying the moment live, with their own eyes – not through their iPhone screen as they do today. Occasionally there would be a camera nerd with an SLR camera round his neck, or mum and dad with their little instamatic film cameras (shooting a few frames that probably turned out horribly when they got the prints back from the chemist a few days later).
Its a strong reminder how the way we witness big events has changed for the general public. Now days you don’t see peoples faces in the crowd because they are all shadowed behind their camera phone they hold constantly to their face. Its also changed the role of the professional photographer. In 2000 my images really mattered. It was really the way everyone could see and share the Torch Relay journey. Today I don’t see there is so much of a need for official photographers in many ways as everyone has taken a photo or video and posted in on-line for the world to see before the official photographer can even think about deciding which photo to edit and send. Its very hard for one photographer to compete with the general public who have every moment covered from every angle as they crowd around the centre of attention.
Smartphones have amazing photo taking qualities – even a monkey can take a good shot. There is still a need for the Official Photographer – because you still need the skill and experience and the access to special situations to record the event properly. But it has become a very different market. The public digest imagery completely differently today.
And if I had a chance to do it again…? 100% yes! I would love to go back in time and do it again. I would do it exactly the way I did it in 2000 but with one change – the camera technology! The idea of a lightweight, super high resolution, see in-the dark digital camera – with crystal clear laptop screens, fast software and large hard drives and mobile broadband. Oh my god, mobile broadband! And drones and… OK , you get the point. Camera technology is the only thing that I lacked in 2000 and would have bitten my left arm off to have.
I’m also thankful for all the friends I made. The 100+ crew that gave me the chance and the support to succeed. If I was to dedicate this adventure to any one person it would have to be to beautiful Lisa H. Lisa was there from my very first days at SOCOG and encouraged me and gave me tips on how to convince her boss to give me the job of Official Photographer. She was the warmest and happiest person on the entire team. One of the warmest person I haver ever known. Loved by all. Lisa left this world way too soon. But she will always be with us, and me, in joyous spirit.