I’m so tired and definitely smell a little as I write this, but this evening I accidentally got caught in the middle of Lizzie Yarnold’s family as she won gold in the women’s skeleton final.
How did this happen? Well, I got to the finish line late. The second and final run had just begun and the track was already rammed with photographers pressed up against the sides. It was too high for me to see over the top, so the security guards let me stand on the steps up to the spectator area. I was short enough to not block Lizzie’s family behind, but got a good view over the heads of the other photographers.
Everyone snapped away as each athlete came up the slide, but it was clear who we were all waiting for. Lizzie Yarnold was the final athlete to take to the track. A couple of photographers realised I’d got a good spot and joined me on the steps. When the American skeleton athlete Noelle Pikus-Pace crossed the finish line and claimed second place, she jumped over the barriers to hug her family. The photographers I was stood with went wild, jumping into the spectator zone to get a photo of her kissing her husband and child. This sent the security guards mad. They were yelling and shouting at the photographers, telling them to get off the steps and escorting each of them off.
I didn’t get involved in this brawl, but got swept into the mass photographer clearing. I tried to talk one security guard into letting me stay. He point blank refused to listen. After much begging and protesting “I’m only small!” another security guard came along and said something in Russian to him. And amazingly, he let me stay. I was the only photographer left on the steps as Lizzie came up the slide.
She slid straight into first place. The cheers were deafening. Behind me, Lizzie’s mum and her coach Mark Wood were in tears. I was welling up myself.
Just like Noelle before her, Lizzie greeted the photographers with her Union Jack before climbing over the barriers to hug her family. Her coach rushed down the steps past me, followed by her sisters. I was wedged against the railings as the photographers turned around and started snapping like crazy. Oh shit, I thought, I’m right in the middle of this.
Lizzie rushed past to hug her dad, her sisters were sobbing, the photographer’s were shouting, “Lizzie! Lizzie!”. I manically changed lenses to a wide-angle one and snapped these photos.
A bemused Russian boy who decided to exit the spectator stand at the wrong time was wedged next to me with a look on his face that said, “Errrr I shouldn’t be here” as Lizzie posed with her sisters and dad for the press.
Unsurprisingly, the photographer’s stuck on the wrong side of the barrier weren’t pleased I was blocking their shot. I felt a hand push my shoulder down, so I crouched down to give them room and snapped from below.
Suddenly a panicked volunteer rushed in. “She has to get to the flower ceremony!” he cried, shoving his way through the crowd to get Lizzie’s attention. And then she was gone, photographers snapping in her wake.