Saturday, December 12, 2009

Speed skating at the Utah Olympic Oval

Another stop in my travels around Utah shooting the incredible variety of entertainment. This week it was a trip down into the Salt Lake valley to the Utah Olympic Oval. One of the positive results of holding the Olympics in town is that you have all these "leftover" facilities.

There is a series of competitions called the Speed Skating World Cup. This is the last competition of the series before the 2010 Olympics. These are the best skaters in the world and many of them were trying to qualify for their country's team.

How fast were they? I watched four events. They either broke two or three world records and another half dozen national records. They talk about this oval as being the "Fastest Ice on Earth". It is. The high elevation and low humidity means thinner air. Thinner air means lower resistance.

So, I got to see the best skaters in the world, breaking records left and right, for free. The entire event was free to the public. Go figure.

Not only that, because I was there Friday afternoon instead of the busier weekend sessions, I was able to access the ice in ways that I shouldn't have. By wandering around with an "I belong here attitude" and a decent camera, I was able to go where only the athletes and professional photographers should be. I wandered around the oval, just feet from the ice.

The challenge is how to shoot decent pictures. In general, indoor lighting and fast moving action simply don't go together. It is extremely difficult to get enough light so that you can use a fast shutter speed. A normal 1/60th of a second gets you something like this.

Cool, and kind of artsy, but only for a picture or two. Then you actually want to see what the blurry things are.

The next few shots are of Shani Davis. He won both gold and silver medals in the 2006 Olympics in Turin. He is FAST! He did ok in the 500 meter race, but crushed his own world record in the 1500.

And now for some odds and ends, mostly odds.

At the end of every race, a pair of Zambonis came out to resurface the ice. I guess it makes sense, but I wasn't ready to see them come rumbling out.

While the ice was being repaired, we got to listen to School House Rock. A great opportunity for a local group of kids to get a gig.

And finally, my ongoing case of lens envy. The pros all have their monster, light-sucking, high speed, fast focusing lenses. Are they helpful? I had 600-700 pictures that were either blurry from motion or out of focus (slow lens). Of course, for somewhere between $6,000 and $12,000 I could get one of the spiffy lenses.

It is hard to see, but the guy on the left has a lens I had never seen before. Not sure what it was, but I am quite sure you couldn't snag it for $12k. I would guess $25k.

As I keep photographing different events, I slowly get better and better with a camera. Practice makes perfect! ... or at least it makes improvement.
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