Golden Pictures at World Athletics in Moscow
So, Friday night was for sure one I wont ever forget: a super one for young shot put sensation David Storl and if I can say an amazing night for me and Germany. It started like so many other nights of athletics I have covered as part of the Reuters photographic team at the World Athletic Championships here in Moscow.
As has been the case for years now I am one of the infield photographers covering the track and field competitions from the privileged spot on the grass. We had long jump, 200m womens final, 5000 meters mens final and the womens hammer throw. Dominic Ebenbichler, my friend and colleague on the infield was to cover the long jump, the hammer throw and the finish line of the 200m. I would look after the shot put and 5000m.
We spend most of our time here trying to look for interesting angles and new ways to show off these great athletes at their best. The shot put is one of my absolute favorite competitions. I setup one remote controlled camera behind the ring for a scene setting picture and used a long lens to cover the throw trying to capture the expression on their faces. Before Storl’s fourth attempt I decided I had enough of this angle and wanted to look for something else. So I took a low level side on position, lying on my belly.
As it happens after this attempt Storl really started to celebrate, realising it was the best throw so far. He was happy but me not so much, my angle hadn’t worked as I had hoped, as there was a big TV microphone in my frame. However, within a few seconds the series of five images became the most important pictures I ever taken at an athletics event. All those moments with Usain Bolt or Germany’s discus hero Robert Harting (the one who rips his shirt apart after winning) haven’t come close to these images of Storl.
One of the judges decided that his fourth throw was a foul attempt as his leading foot had crossed the foot barrier. Storl looked shocked, shook his head and began arguing with the referees that he hadn’t actually touched the top of the foot barrier.
I scrolled through the images on the back of my camera and said in German to Storl “looks like you didn’t foul at all.” Within a second Storl got the head judge to look at my images and after going through the pictures again and again the judge finally agreed with Storl and my camera and his throw was granted good. About 30 minutes later it was clear this attempt was the winning shot put of the night. After Storl finished his lap of honour with the German flag and a bowler hat in German colours he gave me the biggest hug ever and left the field of play as World Champion.
After all the races had finished I thought my work was done. But this is where it really started. Not behind the camera, like I am used to but actually in front of the camera. All major German TV networks wanted to speak to me as Storl had told everybody the story of how my pictures somehow convinced the judges to call his attempt good and how this secured his World Championship and gold medal.
I was not aware of the importance of my pictures and I could not imagine the reaction across Germany. Newspapers and online portals were headlining with “Reuters photographer saves gold for Germany.” And as you can imagine on social networks it very quickly went viral. My phone didn’t stop pinging as I received hundreds of emails and sms. It was then that I really realized how grateful that I did something special while I only tried to do my job as professional as ever.