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Winter Paralympics: PyeongChang 2018 - by Soody Ahmad

1 April 2018

Assignment: PyeongChang 2018 - Winter Paralympics.
Client: ParalympicsGB

I had been in discussions with ParalympicsGB for a little while, relating to a personal project about disabled sports. During one of the conversations I mentioned that I would be in S. Korea during the Winter Paralympics with my wife, who is from that country. I was informed that they did not have any photographers representing them so this kicked off a dialogue about what could be covered and how things could operate if I were to work for them. Press passes were obtained and a contract agreed. I was to be working alongside another UK-based freelancer, who had experience of working at winter events, something I didn't have. I was lucky enough to be able to attend a couple of events at the Winter Olympics a few weeks beforehand and get a feel of the environment as well as consider the logistics of getting between venues to cover different events. Having a background in project management allowed me to work with the other photographer and arrange what we needed to cover for ParalympicsGB as well as covering a couple of other smaller commissions for the games that we both had.

My main focus was on Alpine Skiing and Curling, where GB had the best chances of medals. These were located at the two extremes of the Paralympics locations so involved lots of driving around. Sat in-between was the Nordic Skiing location. For those not completely familiar with Nordic Skiing, it covers 2 disciplines; Biathlon and Cross-Country. Nordic Skiing was not something that had ever held a big attraction for me, but watching GB's one athlete competing completely changed my perspective. Scott Meenagh was a soldier who whilst on tour in Afghanistan had his lower legs blown off. Only two years after taking up the sport, Scott was competing in his first Winter Paralympics, GB's first representative in twenty years. Watching Scott giving his all against some very seasoned athletes was quite inspiring. Maybe those of us that take photos are not supposed to get emotionally involved, but it was impossible for me as a competitive sportsperson not to cheer him on whilst I took photos of him on the course, after meeting him at a training session a day before the opening ceremony. I was only able to cover two of his six events, and he only had one day off. On both days his efforts saw him collapse over the finishing line.

The shot that is showcased is from the 12.5Km Biathlon event. It involves five laps of an undulating course which gave me a chance to capture images at a few different locations including where he was shooting at five discs on five occasions. For this shot I was standing in the TV gantry just beyond the finish line, surrounded by lots of other photographers with 400mm+ lenses. As Scott came to the line, I had been taking photos using a 200-400 zoom but switched to a wider lens as I wanted to capture the loneliness of it all.

Canon 1Dx. 70mm F2.8 1/8000th.

I have been playing with cameras since I was 17, something that wasn't really a done thing in an Asian family in the late 70s, when I was expected to work in the family business. Photography in those days played second fiddle to my studies and my love of playing sport. The latter was more important to me than the former, not that I ever let on about that to my parents.

A convoluted career path meant that after working in the IT/Telecoms industry for 18 years, I was able to take redundancy in 2005 and follow my passion for photography and aim to turn it into a profitable venture, setting up SA Images. With sport being a big part of my life, I decided to focus my photography ambitions around what I knew best, starting off doing small scale work at greyhound tracks and the odd sports club. A discussion with a friend of mine who worked for the Press Association, about how I as a freelancer could get into working at the Olympics, a short while after London was announced as the 2012 hosts, led me to use my sales and marketing skills to open doors in the Paralympics sporting community.

This led me to working at both London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympics, mainly focusing on Wheelchair Basketball for GB and the USA. I now cover a few different parasports, supplemented by some regular commercial work for corporate clients and a few weddings a year, mainly for friends or friends of friends.

See more work by Soody Ahmad

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