2013 World Championships: Photographer’s Blog

Below is a running blog from the 2013 Senior World Championships. We’ll see if  I can keep this blog going better than in Istanbul 2011. After about day two I have a backlog of photos and my blog usually suffers. I was inspired by USA Wrestling’s Craig Sesker and Gary Abbott who, in addition to all his hard work and struggles with the Internets, still found time to blog during the Junior World Championships. Of course those two are far better wordsmiths than I.

Monday, Sept 23, 2013 - 7:30am and on my way to the Budapest airport. Bummed I did get a chance to see any of the city, but happy I got to see some of the best wrestling in the world. I’ll be processing photos for the next week or so, be sure to check back. This blog will go the way of most stuff on the internet…

Sunday, Sept 22, 2013 - It’s the last day of worlds. I’m well rested and excited to shoot today. I’m hoping Robbie Smith from De La Salle high school can pull out an upset or two. The guy has been working hard for years and deserves his shot. Yesterday was a bit of a disappointment for the US greco team. The reffing does seem confusing at times, and Caylor Williams’ match was a perfect example. Here’s Craig’s write up on the day.

Since we didn’t have any athletes in the finals we all got out of here right after the awards were handed out. We tried to go to the “Italian” restaurant, but they were booked up, so we headed to the “meat place” which is a buffet where you hand them different flavors of meat and they grill it for you. It’s decent. I’ve been enjoying their Greek salad as well. After the raucous night before, I was happy to be in bed by midnight.

IMG_1291Saturday, Sept 21, 2013 - The US women’s team fought for 3rd place last night, and it was great. I love that team, the coaches are all top notch, and the athletes are humble and hard working. I was fortune enough to get caught up in their evening party and they did not disappoint. After a false start at a restaurant that was closed, we wound up back close to the stadium and had a great time. So much fun! In fact, I was inspired to buy some Happy Day juice in honor of last night. (Also, how did I get home, and what is Hungarian testicle whiskey?

Thursday, Sept 19. 2013 – There’s beer in the stadium. And they’re about $2 each.

Chicken fried everything!

Chicken fried everything!

Wednesday, Sept 18, 2013 - This is usually where my blog starts to drop off, so I’ll push through. 1, 2, 3…Blog! Yesterday (Tuesday) was a bit of a disappointment for the men’s freestyle team. We only ha done guy in teh finals and he got fifth, so no medals. Here’s Craig Sesker’s article. From a photographer’s angle, things are okay, of course they treat the shooters a very distant second to video, so that’s always frustrating as we get pushed around, or told we have to shoot from certain spots that may have a tree (literally) in the way. We got our shots though. I’ll post the finals from last night later in the week as I start to process more. As I write this we’re preparing for the Wed finals and we have Jordan Burroughs going for first, and Alyssa Lampe and Victoria Anthony going for 3rd, so I’ll post some highlights from those matches tonight.

Right as we were wrapping up last night I had to do some work work, so I was a bit late getting out of here, but I caught up with the Flo guys (again) and had a later dinner including US coach Zeke Jones, his wife, Jake Herbert and Andy Hrovat. Andy and Jake are very up to date on all the political things happening behind the scenes, like the Cubans throwing matches for money. It was fun. The food was a bit if a disappointment. Learn from my mistake, a “filet medallion” in Hungary is NOT a filet medallion that you might expect in the states (nice thick cut of meat). Pretty much everything on the menu was some form of pounded meat, breaded and cooked “chicken fried” style.

I was exhausted this morning, but have settled into a great morning routine that includes yogurt and musli and a nice cappuccino. The European style cappuccino is more like a cortado in SF, so I’m happy!

Opening ceremonies, Notice the placards.

Opening ceremonies, notice the placards.

Tuesday, Sept 17, 2013 - The first day of wrestling at the worlds was a bit of a disappointment. JD Bergman at 96kg started strong, but got thrown for a fall in his first match and did not make the repechage. Brent Metcalf at 66kg had the reining world champion from Iran in his first match which he lost and was devastated when the Iranian lost in the next round. Angel Escobedo, filling in at 55kg, had the best outing of the day, eventually taking 5th. It was nice to have a US athlete in the finals, but a bummer we didn’t get any medals.

Here is USA Wrestling’s article on the day.  

The day had the characteristic “first day of worlds” stresses. I walked from the metro to the stadium back entrance to find Gary Abbott, Craig Sesker and Richard Immel all being told we would have to wait 1.5 hours to get in. After some haggling, Gary got us in. It was stressful for everyone, even athletes were not allowed into the main competition venue, though they have a sizable off-site venue they can warm up and wrestle at.

Good light!

Good light!

As competition got started the shooters were happy, the lighting in excellent, some of the best I’ve shot in, and they are letting us stand right at the side of the mat, so no one walks in front of us, and issue we’ve had at the last three worlds. The finals lighting was even better and I did set up a second strobe and got some good stuff. It takes a bit to dial in completely, so by the end of the finals I was feeling pretty good about my light. Of course for the finals there was a stressful moment when DURING Angel’s match they decided they needed to move the shooters back 3 meters. In and of itself this wouldn’t be a problem, except there are 1.5 foot tall advertising placards in front of us, cutting off the bottom of the mat. We were quite vocal about that and they eventually took the placards down in front of us.
I had thought to bring some food with me for the day because you never know if they will feed the media. They didn’t, and so it was the talk of the town for those that didn’t have any food.

North Korean fans.

North Korean fans.

After the finals ended I posted a few shots for USAW and went to dinner with the guys from Flow Wrestling, They are awesome, but doing anything with them is a total clusterf_ck. I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just a lot of guys, without a plan for food, and you never know when a wrestling match will break out. We actually started walking toward my apartment, and with two rollie bags I was happy about that, i didn’t want to get caught out too late with two rollies. at 10:30pm we had dinner at a pretty good (very good actually) all you can eat buffet. Two big beers and two plates of food and we were all pretty happy. I was doubly happy because it was 5 minutes from my pad. I stayed up until 2am processing the first set of shots from the finals (found here).

Oh, the North Koreans are represented well, any guesses if these folks are ex-pats of PRK, or actually from there? They chant REALLY well in unison and all come and go together. Thoughts?

IMG_1271

Saturday/Sunday, Sept 14-15, 2013 – I made it in to Hungary just fine without incident. I found my Air BnB place and after settling in went for a walk to the main hotel, and then the venue to see if I could find the US team working out. After a long walk around a very desolate arena, I found an open door, which lead to another open door and I walked straight into the venue being set up. Sweet!

It turns out the teams were getting in a work out next store, so I cruised over there only to find I could get my accreditation. Two points on that: 1) “Accreditation” is a strange word. I’m not sure I like it, but if I get Olympic accreditation it may quickly become my favorite word ever known to humankind. 2) I broke my cardinal rule of “always carry your passport if you go near the venue before the event.” It’s becuase you may need it to get your accreddititation.  I learned this the hard way in Istanbul, I set out on a Sunday without my passport, accidentally found the accreddititation office, and had to go back to my hotel to get it (not a short distance). Fortunately this time they accepted my drivers license and I was stoked to get that handled early.

13SWWCONF2148After that I didn’t find anyone I knew at the hotel, so I strolled around for a while, had a decent dinner and some decent white wine, and called it a night watching live college football at midnight. Strange. I woke up fairly early, and wanting more sleep I accidentally slept until 3pm! I’m hoping that doesn’t bite me tonight.

I gathered my cloudy wits, took a train to the venue and caught FILA president Nenad Lalovic’s press conference. I ran into Gary Abbott, Craig Sesker, Richard Immel, Jason Bryant, and all of the Flo guys, so it was good to connect with some friends.

13SWWCONF2229

After the conference we went over to the training and weigh-in area. It’s cool that they let media in this area, in past events no media was allow this much access to the athletes, especially near weigh-ins. The thinking is maybe this is the start of some of the changes we’re going to see around the world championships. They are talking about eventually doing finalist weighins (like MMA and boxing), but the specifics of that would need to be worked out.  Once a weight was complete pairings were immediately posted, and of course that caused a bit of a flurry of folks trying to see and report back their country’s pairings.

Tonight I’ll grab some beer with the guys and get ready for the first day tomorrow!  The venue looks great, I’m hoping for a fun week. It looks like photographers will have to stand, so that’s some cause for concern, but we’re wrestling tough, so whatevs.

IMG_1265Friday, Sept 13, 2013 – Support Staff
Anyone involved in wrestling knows you can’t get far without a support staff. Be it mom and/or dad driving you to practice and competition, or a girlfriend/boyfriend giving you the love and space you need to train and cut weight, then go to events and support you with all their heart whether you win or lose. I’m fortunate enough to have an understanding girl friend, family, friends, and job that allows me to pursue my passion and give back to this sport as best I can.

To that point, it’s my girlfriend’s birthday today and I’m about to get on a plane to Budapest. She’s driving me to the airport. This is actually the third birthday of hers I have missed to go shoot the worlds (Denmark, Moscow, Istanbul), not only that, I’m traveling to cool places without her! That’s some serious understanding right there. Now, granted, she’s a smart cookie and knows I will shower her with even more love because she is so understanding (hello REALLY nice bottle of champagne and dinner at Zuni Cafe), but still. It’s her birthday and I’m going to spend it on a cramped plane watching movies, then shoot wrestling for seven days and come home stinky and tired with about 40 hours of photo processing to do. Maybe I ask too much?

Onward…For real this time…

Monday, Sept 9, 2013 – Excited!
Five days before I leave for Budapest, Hungary for the 2013 Senior World Championships and I’m getting psyched! We’re back in the Olympics (provisionally, but we’ll get back to core sport status soon), and the atmosphere in Budapest will be off the shizzle for sure. I’m counting the hours and booking my gluten-free airplane meal. (I’ve been embracing the gluten-free lifestyle as much as I can and it works for me.) I’ve got a 14hr kick-off from San Francisco to Frankenfurt, Germany, then a 2 hr punt into Budapest. I just learned Amateur Wrestling News editor Jason Bryant will be on that flight. Jason is great to hang out with because he’s a Wikipedia of wrestling knowledge (and opinion). I’m sure two hours will fly by with the re-inclusion and new weight classes.

I can’t wait to see some old friends like Ali the photographer from Iran. I also get to hang out with USAW Wrestling’s Craig Sesker, Richard Immel, and Gary Abbott. I try to avoid the Flo Wrestling guys, since they’re Trouble, but they always seem to find me and force me to drink beer and have fun. Blech. Who likes that!? I’ve at least learned a few things from previous worlds, like, if you stay up until 6am partying with who’s who from wrestling USA, that 1pm start time is your best friend.

IMG_1621-(1)New Toys
It wouldn’t be a world championships without a few new toys for the trip. This little beauty is a 14-24 f/2.8 lens that will take gorgeous venue, crowd, and (hopefully USA!) team shots. The glass is so parabolic a normal lens cap won’t fit on it!  I lust after nice glass like Golum lusted after that ring.  I also got a new SB-910 flash unit to compliment my Sb-900, they are amazing flashes and I’m hoping to set one or two up as a remote strobe for the finals. Both my Nikon D4 and D3 have gotten a professional service at Nikon Repair, so everything is squeaky clean.

I’ll be taking a ton of Team USA shots, and I think we have a chance in all disciplines if everyone wrestles to their ability. It’s a tall order for some of the younger kids, it’s hard not to have nerves get in the way. The world will be watching Jordan Burroughs as he goes for a second world title at 74kg. I really like how Metcalf is wrestling lately at 66kg and hopefully the new rules will be to his advantage with his superior conditioning. So much comes down to blast doubles (or blast attacks in general) and defense at this level. You can’t make a lot of gravy from a half-hearted attack like in high school. Helen Maroulis has everything to be world champion; it’s her time. Our Greco team is pretty green, but that’s not always bad, they just need to step up and start chucking people. Mango needs to lead these guys with some hardware on Friday. You can find a complete schedule here.

Pack, Repack, Repack Again
As a photographer preparing for the event takes some extra time. I have to pack a bag with just photo gear that will roll with me, and then another rollie with photogear (not the pricey stuff) and clothes that will get checked. I rarely check a bag, but for Worlds and the long flights, I’ve gotta do it. I’ve packed the first bag early (sans this lens), but not the second, that will be my mid-week duty and involves packing several times to get the balance of clothes and gear just right; gear always wins in the end. As I said, I’m taking a few extra parts to try and set up a few remote strobes for the finals, which includes a stand and ancillary components. I’ve been shooting with multiple strobes before and love the results, it’s just a matter of whether I can get the strobes on or near the floor. Hopefully taking this extra gear won’t be wasted effort.

I have a great little apartment that’s about two blocks from one of the main hotels. I got it on Air BnB for $27/night!  The renter even offered me a bike to borrow, so maybe I’ll run into Joe Williamson. 2009 in Herning Denmark was a fun Worlds, and Istanbul was amazing, but I think Budapest will stand out in it’s own way with the new Fila leadership.

I’m looking forward to the event even more because of our re-inclusion into the Olympics. I’m certain it will be extra festive. I can’t wait to meet Nenad Lalovic, the new Fila President, and thank him for helping to save the sport we love. I had always wanted to meet the old Fila president Raphael Martinetti, but he would prowl in the elite area reserved for Fila officials and never come down to meet anyone on the floor. I suspect Mr. Lalovic to be more a man of the people.

Onward…Wait, it’s only Monday.