By: MARK FITZGERALD
WHAT A DIFFERENCE an Olympics makes: At the Winter Games in Lillehammer two years ago, Associated Press photographers shot perhaps 25% of their pictures with digital cameras.
“This time around, it’s exactly the opposite. I’d say [digital] could reach as high as 75%,” Brian Horton, AP’s senior editor/photo, said a few days before the Olympics began.
It’s a measure of how far the digital camera has come in news coverage that AP is not simply shooting greater volumes with digital ? it is relying on these cameras for its most important shots.
“If [a picture] is critical ? it’s digital,” Horton said.
Most film shots, in fact, will be taken at the more remote venues and then mostly for minor sports, he said.
The dominance of digital at this summer’s Olympics can be attributed to two factors: the physical setup of the venues in Atlanta and the technical advances in digital cameras.
With 20 of the 26 venues located inside the so-called Olympic Ring ? a 1.5-mile radius downtown where traffic is banned but the press of visitors is creating considerable congestion ? the traditional system of running film messengers has drawbacks.
Fortunately, however, the Atlanta stadiums and other venues have areas that lend themselves well to sending digital images, Horton said.
“In previous Olympics, we had more of a main press center orientation. We would process or send from the main press center. In Atlanta, we will have more remote locations than ever before at an Olympics,” Horton said in an interview days before the opening ceremonies.
AP will be using T-1 and ISDN lines for transmission, as well as relying on POTS (plain old telephone system), Horton said.
AP is also relying more on digital because it will mostly be using the NC 2000E, the camera with Nikon body and optics and Kodak back.
“The 2000E can be used in lighting situations that we were not able to handle before,” Horton said.
AP is fielding 75 photographers and film messengers in Atlanta and the remote Olympic venues ? part of a large team of journalists and support staff that include 20 technicians who put together the press center and remote site in less than three weeks.
The main press center is located in two exhibition halls: the InForum and the Apparell Mart. A big problem for AP and other media setting up before the Olympics was that these facilities were not available to ACOG ? Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, the local administrator of the Summer Games ? until July 1, because there was a huge gift show held in the halls.
There were some immediate problems, AP’s technical chief at the Olympics, Bud Weydert, said in an interview in the days before the Games began.
“Between the shows [ACOG technicians] tried to do some things in advance, such as laying cable,” Weydert said then. “But there is a considerable amount of confusion. Circuits aren’t where they are supposed to be. There are problems with just about every facet of it ? telephone, telecommunications, satellite. Some things they have been able to resolve very quickly and for others you have to wait a couple days.
“I wouldn’t say this is one of the worst of these events, but it is far from the best,” he said.
Weydert talks from experience: He has headed AP’s technical staff at every Summer and Winter Olympiad since the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. In between, he has handled World Cups, Pan Am Games and other high-profile international competition.
“Lillehammer was the best,” Weydert said, referring to the 1994 Winter Games. “The Norwegians were very organized ? everything went in perfectly. And if something didn’t work at first, before you got there it was taken care of.”
In many ways, Lillehammer has set a very high bar for Atlanta’s organizers to clear, he said.
“They may suffer in coming after Lillehammer ? this tiny little town where everyone thought it was going to be a nightmare, where no one thought the transportation [planning] would work. And it was all done beautifully,” said Weydert, a communications executive who manages AP’s Technical Center in Kansas City in the off-season.
?(AP/John Bazemore) [Caption]
?(Associated Press senior photo editor for sports, Brian Horton (left), and Mike Feldman, AP’s London senior photo editor for news, check schedules for events at the Olympic Games.) [Photo & Caption]
?(AP/John Bazemore) [Caption]
?(Associated Press technicians Kevin Tinnell (left) of Omaha and Ed Smith of Knoxville help set up AP operations at the Olympic Games.) [Photo & Caption]