There we were, sitting in the car while the rain belted down, eating tuna biscuit snack things and the kids’ Nutragrain bars, and watching riders on their mountain bikes push through the wet mud. They’d been riding since seven that morning and it had to be, oh, two in the afternoon by now. Maybe three.
I tell you, mountain bikers are insane. Awesomely impressive, unutterably fit, but still completely insane.
It’s probably long since been relegated to the trash-bin of your memories, but not actually all that many weeks ago our fine town experienced the kind of gale force winds more usually associated with the picking up of houses and dropping them in imaginary lands complete with roads of golden brick. You know, there was a windy, rainy storm or two, as tends to happen on the months out of winter.
And oh, there’s nothing like a wind storm up in the hills. Trees dropping all over the place, power blackouts as they inevitably come down over powerlines, screeching brakes from cars losing traction on dangerous, winding, steep hill roads with sheer cliff-face drops down one side, and nowhere to escape to up the other. Living amongst the gum trees is truly lovely, but it does have its occasional drawback. Such as said gum trees love to topple over in the wind almost as much as they love to burn up in bushfires.
Ah, the Victorian landscape. If you didn’t know better you’d think it was actively trying to kill you, really.
I know rain is always good and we need water catchments refilled and all that, yes, yes, do understand. But at risk of appearing an environmental heretic, I would just suggest there are some occasions when you’d prefer it just held off for a wee bit. You know, like when you’re competing in a seven hour cross country mountain bike endurance race.
At such times, wind and rain are not your friends.
Let me just repeat: Seven hours. Wind. Rain. Freakin’ mud, if you can’t already see that for yourselves. On mountain bikes.
See, I told you. Insane. Totally awe-inspiring, but insane.
First time I went photographing mountain bikers it was a downhill event. Now there was insanity on two wheels. Young bucks, most of them, and bullet proof – or crash proof, anyway.
One guy – here he is in a couple of shots by the Dear Partner Mr. Hudcomm – came down and split his bike in two.
It’s all adrenalin extreme sport stuff. I’m not into it myself, but I do love to photograph it.
See, little old me just ain’t much of an sports-adrenalin junkie. When I last fell off my horse, I just shrugged my shoulders and never got back on. Hey, I was over thirty by then and didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. Plus it’s the 21st century, it’s not like I need to ride the bugger to work or anything. We have trains now.
But sports photography? Luuuv it. I blame it on the Cold War. No, really, just go with me on this for a bit.
See, back in the days when those bright sparks in charge of the USA and the USSR actually thought a concept called “Mutually Assured Destruction” was a sensible model for global geo-political power sharing, the International Olympics Committee decided to pull a practical joke. They gave the Ruskies the nod to host the 1980 Olympics, then handed it to the Yanks for 1984. Just old thigh-slapping humourists down at the IOC, really. Almost as funny as that 1936 Berlin thing.
So if you want to know where this tendency towards bankrupting the nation’s treasury to pay for the chest-thumping one-upmanship and political posturing which usually comprises the Olympics Opening Ceremony dates from, just try the 1980/1984 Olympics standoff. The Yankees made a big deal out of boycotting 1980 and Moscow just to show them how grand an occasion they were missing, which was followed hot on its heels by the 1984 Olympics, where the Americans had to prove they could do it better.
(And if you think I’m just being a cynical bugger, well, you’re probably right. But think back to the most recent China games, then tell me there’s no national image agenda setting going on there. And hate to burst your bubble, darlings, but Sydney was no exception either.)
Anyway. Where are we? I seem to have wandered off the garden path and stopped to stomp on the roses again.
Oh, that’s right. My love of sports photography. Oh, okay, so it really has nothing to do with the Cold War (I was all of ten in 1984 – I think we can safely say the geo-politicking of twinned Moscow-Los Angeles Olympics entirely passed me by), but photography from those 1984 games still sticks in my head to this day. Especially that one of US weightlifter Derrick Crass. Don’t know if you remember it. It showed him lifting the weights and his elbow bent entirely the wrong way.
I went to Google it (what, you think I actually remembered the guy’s name?), but the internets have failed me. I don’t know where all you copyright pirates are hiding, but I couldn’t find a copy of the image anywhere. Humph. No matter, you’ll all just have to use those fertile imaginations of yours (but this time, please, try to keep it clean, hmmm? I’m not covering for you again, you know.)
That picture I remember – and while I’ve said before that my memory is a fickle beast running it’s own agenda, I found enough evidence while Googling to convince me it was actually real – was a split moment capture. Crass’ elbow bent inwards then back out again before anybody could even react. But the photographer, whoever he may be, got that one perfect shot, that exact timing, and now I have seared into my brain the image of a man’s elbow bent the wrong way forever.
And that’s what I love about sports photography. It’s the single moment, the key instant, that one perfect stand-still second in which the entire story of the athlete’s journey is captured. All the hard work and pain and sacrifice, all the obsessive need to keep pushing oneself to further physical heights, all that success, and all the just-missed-outs… To be able to get that in a split moment still is what this game of image capture is all about.
I’m not particularly good at it. Hey, maybe it helps to actually like sports. But I try from time to time, and I’ll always adore those who are brilliant at it.
And I might not be insane enough to go riding mountain bikes for seven hours through the most inclement weather this side of cyclone season in the tropics, but I will go stand out there amongst it clicking away obsessively in the hope of capturing the image of that one perfect moment…
Ah. ‘Till next peoples…