11 08 2008

Today I witnessed one hell of a race. If you own a television, I am sure NBC is ramming the men’s 4×100 relay race down your throat. They have been banking on Phelps winning 8 golds to break the record by Mark Spitz. In order to do that, he needs to win 3 relay golds. A lot of pressure considering he only has control over 1 leg of each relay. He almost lost one today because NJ native Cullen Jones got toasted on the 3rd leg. I’ll bet NBC executives were ready to jump off a bridge after that split.

I got to the pool 2 hours before the race. I went to each photo position to scout out how the relay photo could look. In the end, I shot sitting on the pool deck, about 35m from the finish. There wasn’t a clock in front of me, so I had to turn around to see who was leading. After every leg, I would turn to see where the US was. I did notice that when Cullen dove in, Phelps and Weber-Gale had the US in the lead. When Cullen got out, they were half a body length behind. In swimming terms, that’s like a football field. If you saw the race, you know what happened. Lezak swam a world record split to beat the French, who coincidentally were talking about how they were going to “smash” the US in this race.  From my seat, with 35 meters to go Lezak trailed. But he was popping out of the water on every stroke. I thought they were done. I looked to shoot the team at the finish line. Phelps was rooting Lezak on. Every second you could see Phelps getting more and more excited. The reaction above is pretty crazy. This photo would have looked great in the paper, except it’s missing one key element.

Cullen Jones.

He was sulking in the water after his leg of the race and he took forever to get out of the water.
He came up small, but I guess it’s a lot of pressure knowing you could have cost the greatest swimmer ever a chance at that record.

Cullen’s mother Debra was sitting right behind my photo position. He ran up the bleachers that the photogs sit on and hugged her. The look on her face is pretty awesome.

After the race, we ended up having lunch with NJ native Scott Goldblatt, who won a swimming relay gold in Athens. After leaving swimming, he’s come to the dark side, ours.  It was pretty cool hearing his take on things. He says Phelps winning the 8 golds is a ‘foregone conclusion.’

I have to sign off. Politi is waving a beer in front of me.

I’ll leave you with a cool pic from badminton today. Still can’t believe they’re giving medals for this!