Olympic photographer on victory, defeat and making your own luck

June 11, 2012 | By Al Bello | News, Olympics, Sport

I took this shot of Victor Covalenco when I was covering the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. What made it work was that the authorities were kind enough to allow a handful of us into the roof of the Bird’s Nest stadium, which gave us some great angles to shoot all the action.

I’ve worked on previous Games, so I had an idea where to position myself – I remembered that, while decathletes are good at all their events, they are not great in any. In this case, it was the long jump final, and I was sure there’d be an interesting landing or two.

My experience helped for sure, and putting yourself in the right place at the right time can help you make your own luck.


Victor Covalenco of Moldova competes in the Men's Decathlon Long Jump Final held at the National Stadium during Day 13 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 21, 2008 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

That’s why I scouted out the roof for the position I wanted. But that was an ordeal in itself. To get there, I was strapped to a climber’s harness. And all my equipment had to be strapped around my neck – imagine a camera lens falling on someone from that height and you soon understand why!

Once I’d gotten in place, it was perfect. I just had to wait.

And then it happened; Victor had a nasty landing. You could feel his disappointment. He’d put so much work and training in for this one moment. So when it went wrong I felt incredibly bad for him. I guess that’s the reason the picture works so well; it captures the emotion of that moment. It makes you look at it twice.

It kind of reminds me of a sports show I used to watch, ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The opening sequence had shots showing the thrill of victory, but then also the agony of defeat. That’s it. For every victory there has to be a defeat.

Editor’s note: Al Bello is the Chief Sports Photographer of Getty Images North America region, and is based in New York. He’s covered four Winter and four Summer Olympic Games, and will be in London this Summer covering his 9th Olympic Games.

Al graduated with a Liberal Arts degree from the University of New York at Stony Brook in 1989, and in 1990, he worked as Darkroom Manager for The Ring boxing magazine and began photographing boxing. In 1993, he landed a position as a photographer at Allsport – now a part of Getty Images. He has won various awards from World Press Photo, National Press Photographers Association, Pictures of the Year International, China International Press Photographers Association, The New York Press Photographers Association, The Boxing Writers Association, The Football Hall of Fame, The Baseball Hall of Fame, FINA and The International Olympic Committee.

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