Best of the quest: Favorite photography from the 2018 Winter Olympics
March 25, 2018
People keep asking which Olympics was best. I've been in Steamboat Springs for a decade now. In plenty of ways I'm still the Kansas kid who stumbled into town in February 2008, but in other ways, I'm not.
One of the opportunities Steamboat has offered me that I couldn't have even dreamed 10 years ago is the chance to cover two Winter Olympics, and, in turn, the chance to compare them.
So, which was best, 2014 in Sochi, Russia, or 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea? It's an impossible question to answer.
It's both an easy question and a hard one. Even though it was in general a more successful showing by the United States, I saw very, very few U.S. medals at the 2014 Olympics. I saw Hannah Kearney win bronze in the moguls when she was upset by a rival, and I saw Vic Wild win two golds in Alpine snowboarding for Russia.
This go-around, I was there, front and center, for Red Gerard's gold, Jamie Anderson's gold, Shaun White's gold and Alex Ferreira's silver, to name a few.
Oh, and I was there for Arielle Gold's bronze, easily the best Olympic event I've covered at either Olympics. I've spent so much time talking to and writing about Gold and her ambitions and plans, it's easy to forget she's just 21 years old. She's had the career ups and downs of a 30-year-old.
To be there to see it all pay off, to see her throw down on the last run of the contest, was awesome. It's my job to have the words, and I struggle to find them.
Outside the events, though, what was better: 2014 or 2018 — Russia or South Korea?
I'm not entirely sure there's a right answer.
The Sochi Games were a $50 billion financial boondoggle the likes of which had never been seen. Seeing Sochi made me question how seriously Denver would really want to win an Olympic bid.
Everything felt unfinished. It felt like they'd finished our media lodging while we were in the lobby, and even then, "finished" was a stretch. For the first week of the Olympics, you'd notice major new stores opening, new concrete being poured, new buildings being finished.
That was all absurd, but the resorts were designed from the ground up with the Olympics in mind, and they were certainly handy. Journalists were dropped off 30 yards from their workstations. Security was designed into every building, every venue.
There were more buses, and they ran with military precision, which made sense because there was military everywhere you looked. Security was tight, annoyingly so even.
Security was far more lax in South Korea. People were nicer. The food better and cheaper. The venues were much better for competitions.
But, whereas the Sochi accommodations seemed like they'd been finished 45 minutes ago, the Korea accommodations seemed like they'd been finished 45 years ago.
The media transportation wasn't as convenient. The venues weren't laid out as intricately. The buses sometimes ran late.
No difference was quite as profound to my little world than the way photographers were handled, however.
In Sochi, photographers were generally split into two groups — a small one for the big photo agencies and companies, such as the Associated Press, Reuters and Getty Images, and a big group for the rest of us.
The best photo locations were roped off ahead of the Olympics to be saved for the small group. The rest of the positions weren't bad by any stretch but were off to the side instead of right in the middle, for instance.
Pyeongchang was run on a more first-come, first-serve basis, which was great in my book. I frequently was able to end up in choice positions, right in the middle of the photo corral and looking dead on at finishers coming across the finish line.
But, when photographing the Olympics, there's always a tradeoff, and even getting a great position at the bottom of the course comes with a few.
An even bigger difference for this Olympics came in my own responsibilities. Four years ago, my focus was about 95 percent on photography, and we had another Steamboat reporter on hand to write.
This time, I did all the writing for Steamboat athletes, plus some for our sister publications in the Colorado Mountain News Media family, which is what sent me to cover athletes like Gerard and Anderson.
That changed a lot about how I went about my process.
The big tradeoff to camping in a good photo spot at the bottom of the course is you can't get up and out on the course to get more unique shots. By the time you came back, your sweet spot would be spoken for.
My need to be near the bottom was compounded by the writing responsibilities, too. I needed to be able to get to the interview area before an athlete, and for many events, you couldn't be entirely sure when the skier or snowboarder you were covering would be done and heading over for those interviews. So, I couldn't ever drift too far.
Still, photographing an Olympics is truly an awesome opportunity. There's as much passion in a day as I otherwise encounter in a month.
Photographing and writing about the Olympics can lead to wildly hectic times. Events were squeezed in during the mornings in Korea to run live in prime time in the United States, and it was often a race to squeeze in under what amounted to a 2 p.m. deadline. So even if I took 1,000 photos at an event, I only took the time to really examine 10.
I've had more time since returning to the United States, more time to come up with our best photos from the 2018 Winter Olympics.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.