‘Wrong position?’ Not at all. Red sky, symbolism align at ’96 Olympics

June 26, 2012 | By Mike Hewitt | Olympics, Sport

Atlanta was my first Olympics infield at the athletics. It’s a very privileged position as there are rarely more than a dozen infield passes – which isn’t many when you consider there may be 200 photographers in the stadium.

My task was to cover the pole vault event. The world record holder Sergei Bubka had failed in the qualifying round, taking the edge off it a bit, but I soon forgot that disappointment because of the magnificent sky that developed.

A number of photographers went right under the pole vault bar shooting up on wide angle lenses but I’d noticed the religious symbolism of the cross bar supports. And Atlanta was unusual in that it didn’t have a wrap around roof so you could line up the Olympic flame in the picture.

I thought the triple whammy of the blood red sky, Olympic flame and crosses would make an iconic image. All I needed was for someone to clear the bar. Thank you Igor!

After the sky disappeared, and photographers moved away, one very well known (nameless!) American sports photographer who’d been under the bar on a wide angle lens walked past and said to me “[you're] in the wrong position there Mike.”

The image won the silver prize in the Best of Olympic Photo competition that year and had pride of place at a photo exhibition at the IOC Museum in Lausanne.

It was used across half a page in the Irish Times and as a double page spread in the Gazzetta dello Sport magazine in Italy. The Times used it across half a page after enquiring whether any special filters had been used!



Aug. 2, 1996: Igor Potapovich of Kazakhstan soars through the flame-lit sky to clear the bar and claim fourth in the pole vault at the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. (Mike Hewitt /Getty Images)


Editor’s note:

Mike Hewitt started his career at a small but respected sports photo agency in London, working his way up from black and white printer to chief photographer. In 1992, he was headhunted by Allsport and, since then, has covered sports events in more than 60 countries, including two Round the World yacht races; Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing; and World Cup Finals in rugby, cricket and football.

Mike’s work has been published in major newspapers and magazines worldwide, including the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne Age, L’Equipe magazine, Sports Illustrated, ESPN magazine, Stern and Gazzetta dello Sport. In addition, his work has also achieved major critical acclaim: Highly Commended IOC Photo Awards 1992; Winner John Smith’s International Photographer of the Year 1994; IOC Silver Lens Award 1996; Highly Commended Media Olympic Awards 1996; Runner up Nikon Sports Photographer of the Year 1997; Highly Commended Sport England Sports Photographer of the Year 1998; Winner Sport England Color Sports Folio 2002; Winner Sport England Sports Photographer of the Year 2005.

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  • http://richarddeverell.com Richard Deverell

    As an illustrator especially of the human form, I need a lot of photographic reference and take many photographs for my personal library. Images that capture the human form in this way, mid flight, utterly perfect muscular structure, are only available to people like me in professional photo libraries and when they are published. This photo is awesome.

  • Jason Kellner

    Sweet Jesus! And Christ himself is looking down on the event from the clouds in the upper left. I can see his nose, mouth and neck.