"It’s an action picture, one that also has emotion."
In this weekly series looking back over their exceptionally long careers, we asked our Montreal Gazette photographers to pick out their favourites and tell us about how they got made and what they mean to them.
Gazette photographer John Mahoney’s main assignment at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing for Canwest, then owner of The Gazette and several other Canadian newspapers, was to shoot swimming “because Canadians did well in swimming.” Other events he shot included rowing, kayaking and table tennis.
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But on Aug. 22, “I had a very rare night off — and I saw that Usain Bolt was running the 4 X 100-metre relay and the 200-metre final, sprinting,” Mahoney said. He headed to Beijing’s 80,000-seat National Stadium, the Bird’s Nest.
“Because I had spent the whole day shooting other stuff, all the positions at the finish line were taken,” he recalled. “When there are big races at the Olympics, photographers get there at 10 in the morning for events happening at night and set up multiple remote cameras.
“There was no pressure on me: Canwest had another photographer at the finish line,” Mahoney said. “I went farther up the track, near the handoff between the third and fourth leg — the anchor leg. I had assumed Bolt would run the anchor leg, but it turned out that he ran the third leg. It was a stroke of luck that I was where the handoff would take place to the anchor.”
Other track photographers got Bolt teammate Asafa Powell, the anchor in the relay, crossing the finish line “and the standard pictures,” but what Mahoney shot was totally different.
“Bolt has passed the baton to Powell, who is digging in, shoulders down, going forward — Bolt, the top Olympic sprinter in history. It’s an action picture, one that also has emotion, and it’s different from other Usain Bolt pictures you have seen.”
In Bolt’s oft-photographed signature “lightning bolt” stance, he is leaning back and pointing up at the sky.
Although the Jamaican team won gold that evening, it was stripped of the medal in 2017, when team member Nesta Carter was disqualified for doping.
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