Off The Track
Behind the Scenes at the US Olympic Track & Field Trials
This year’s Olympic Track and Field Trials had over 20 photographers positioned inches apart from one another at the finish line. Many had the same camera. And similar types of lenses. Not to mention almost identical viewing angles. The end result? Most of the shots you’ve seen already!
I wanted to tell a different story from the Trials. What happens off the track, when lights are off and the fans aren’t watching? Off The Track is my attempt at showcasing those important, oft unseen moments.
Over the course of 10 days in Eugene, I reached out to various athletes via Twitter and Instagram, and straight-up asked them: “Do you want to be a part of this project I feel should exist?” As you might imagine, I heard a lot of crickets — but I also got a surprising number of responses from those who were willing to let me document one of the most important weeks of their lives.
What follows is an exclusive look at what happens when the cameras aren’t typically rolling.
Charles Jock (Nike)
One morning I got a text from Jason Vigilante, who coaches Robby Andrews and others, to meet up. I told him about my project and he mentioned that The Glennwood would be a good spot to run into someone. Low and behold I pop in and Charles Jock steps in right after me. He took his seat and before his friends arrived I introduced myself and described the project to him. Two lines into my pitch he says, “I’m in dude, sounds awesome.”
As the story goes, Jock rode his bike to and from the 800-meter final (where he made the Olympic team). What most people don’t know, however, is that he rode his bike to and from every round of racing. After the semifinal, someone had accidentally roped their bike lock through Jock’s front wheel and frame. Luckily the student appeared right before facilities were about to cut it off.
Kate Grace (Oiselle)
Kate was being pulled in a million directions the day after she won the women’s 800m final and I was lucky enough to have linked up with her before on Twitter. The original plan was to shoot images of her running on the Amazon Trail along with some simple portraits on the porch of the Oiselle AirBnb, but those plans quickly changed as an engagement ran late and time got squeezed. I told Kate my goal was to document a real day in the life, so I’d shoot whatever she’d let me.
After a quick foam rolling session at Oiselle’s AirBnb, Grace was in the car headed to the hotel. Her first two interviews were with writers and the third on camera. No matter the style, Kate was very animated with her hands.
Russ + Kara Winger (Asics)
I was introduced to Kara by Neely Spence Gracey, whom I’ve worked with before on a different project. I was looking for a variety of athletes from different event areas and it was music to my ears when they agreed to take part in the project because I only had a couple half milers to this point. Kara is the American record holder in the javelin, which I told the local lighting up a cigarette alongside the river Winger was trying to soak her legs in. “She’s an OLYMPIAN, you know, competing TOMORROW. She just out here to get some FRESH AIR.” He didn’t get the message.
After relocating, Kara and I stood in awe of Russ’ ability to cast the fly within inches of where she was icing. The sun was setting and I think I began to drool over how nice the light looked. We packed up after half an hour and the Wingers left me to go out to a nice dinner. Kara ended up making the final, where she finished third to make the Olympic team.
Leah O’Conner (Adidas) + Nicole Bush (New Balance) + Katie Landwehr (Michigan State)
Four Michigan State alums qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 3,000-meter Steeplechase. I met up the three of them — Leah O’Connor, Nicole Bush and Kate Landwehr — at a hotel off Franklin Blvd.
Leah, Nicole and Katie all rolled out on a short jog and returned for some stretches, drills and strides before heading out for their actual run. One of my former athletes lent me her road bike to tag for the run and shoot. One issue: the frame was sized for a 5'2" former heptathlete and I’m 5'9" with cameras dangling around my neck.
After crashing twice and getting lost on Pre’s Trail, we found our way back to the hotel and I got a look at what post-run looks like for these women: more drills, more strides and a game of red rover, not to mention some bad-ass parking lot portraits.
Travis Mahoney (Hoka One One)
The day after the steeple preliminaries, Travis and I had agreed to meet at the hotel. I ended up running a bit late and met him at his massage appointment instead.
Unknown to many, Travis had caught some nasty poison oak before the Trials and couldn’t use the medication to treat it because it contained a steroid. It also made sleeping difficult since his arrival in Eugene, but Travis left the massage very optimistic about the final (where he finished 14th).
Johnny Dutch (Unsponsored)
I ran into 400m hurdler Johnny Dutchunder the media tent where I overheard him telling his story to a reporter. “I’m currently un-sponsored right now and had to move from Miami back home with my parents so I could keep training,” said Dutch, who finished fifth in the Trials final after clipping the final hurdle. He also brought up the fact that a filmmaker had been following him around over the past 3 years leading into the trials. As his competitors walked by, they were in disbelief that he was still unsponsored.
We exchanged texts and ended up meeting at the dorms, where he was staying during the trials. He was searching online for video of his semifinal so he could review it in order to possibly make some adjustments going into the final. Johnny shared his story of Nike’s response when he won the Prefontaine Classic in spikes that he painted orange to show that he was a free agent. “They were mad,” he recalled.
One of the fastest hurdlers in the world was unsponsored. He had multiple brands laying around his room — Puma shoes, Nike bag, Gatorade towel, Under Armour hat. It’s as if each of these items was a small memory of his track career, just along for the ride.
For more images from my “Off The Track” photo story project, please visit my website.
Aproject focussing on the athletes who placed third and fourth at the Trials (third guaranteed their place in Rio, fourth went home empty handed) appears over 17 pages of issue #05 of Meter magazine, available now from Tracksmith.