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The Unusual Background

This is the winning point for the gold medal in wrestling. On the ground level, the background was made of television cameras, referees, and fans in stands. It was ugly.

So I had to go overhead, which gave me this gift of yellow, blue, and red concentric circles. These are also storytelling elements in that once a wrestler drags his opponent out of the circles, that’s how he scores. The match and the image would be pretty boring if it all happened in the yellow area.

What’s really interesting about this image is you don’t know whose legs belong to whom and you’re not sure who’s who. Most important, you certainly don’t want to be the guy who’s on the bottom with his head down.

It is a beautiful geometry with the colors and the curves, and the repetition of those patterns and their shoes. It’s red and blue uniforms, it’s red and blue lines, and it so happens to be the gold medal–winning move. It’s an incredible dichotomy between beautiful, quiet lines and colors, and the chaotic spaghetti of limbs that captures a key moment, which happens in a split second.

For the athletes in that second, either they’ve lost the gold medal or they’ve won it. This photograph speaks to how everything is so beautifully set up, from the venue to the uniforms, but in the end the reality is that there is only going to be one gold medal winner. To these guys, it’s chaos; one wrong move and there goes the medal.

As the photographer, I only had two athletes to work with, but what I was really aiming for was the right geometry and color palette. I had to find that right elevation, so I wasn’t so low that I caught a distracting element in the background, or so high I couldn’t see their faces. I had to find the perfect balance between being too high or too low, and too tight or too loose.

It feels electric to witness a moment that is so dramatic and even historic. As a photographer, you are going to see 20 or 100 moments like that in your career. The majority of people experience that excitement through a television, but as a photographer you get to feel the thrill in person.

When you physically feel the vibration of the cheers and pure joy of 20,000 people or more around you, it’s hard not to get emotional about it. There is nothing in the world like it. It’s something you never forget.

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