Crewing for TIME at ’84 Olympics

I wasn’t a kayaker in 1984. I had never sat in a kayak, never seen a kayak (except on TV), and didn’t know the first thing about paddling one. It wasn’t until I moved to the Pacific Northwest that I became a passionate paddler.

Likewise for rowing. Growing up in the Midwest, rowing just wasn’t the sport that it was on the coasts even though my youngest brother was on a crew team for Washburn University which had and still does have a respectable rowing team.  I never had the opportunity to watch a race firsthand.

Canoeing was something I may have tried once or twice as a kid on a lake with my Girl Scout troop or vacationing with my family somewhere. But I have little memory of it so the experience must not have been impressive.

The Olympic venue at Lake Casitas was a colorful place as you can see here in this photo of me walking through one of the main entrances.
The Olympic venue at Lake Casitas was a colorful place as you can see here in this photo of me walking through one of the main entrances.

Given my extensive background in each of these sports, I seemed the natural choice to be the reporter to cover those events for TIME Magazine when the 1984 Olympics came to Los Angeles. Once again, my home location then, on the north side of the San Fernando Valley, proved to be to my advantage. To me, this was plum assignment. I had to drive every day during the competition up to the Ojai Valley, about 90 minutes north, to Lake Casitas Lake where the kayaking, rowing and canoeing events were staged. The drive was relatively traffic free as I whizzed up the north side of the Valley and cut across to the 101 freeway to head on up towards Santa Barbara and Ojai.

Traffic during the ’84 Olympics was one of the big fear factors.  People were urged to work from home, to stagger their work hours if they had to go into the office, to take the time off and go to the Olympics in order to help minimize clogged freeways. In fact, many Angelenos left town, renting out their homes to Olympic ticket holders and cashing in on the demand for housing. So the dreaded deadlock on the freeways and city streets never materialized.  In fact, it was some of the fastest-flowing traffic that I could remember in all the years that I lived in that car-loving city.

Men compete in the kayak singles on Lake Casitas. The venue was like a 'mini-resort' to the athletes.
Men compete in the kayak singles on Lake Casitas. The venue was like a ‘mini-resort’ to the athletes.

The athletes competing in the Lake Casitas events were located in the Olympic Village in Santa Barbara. Initially, many of the teams complained that the distance between the Village and their venue was too far. But those concerns too soon vanished as people settled in and began to enjoy both the venue and the trip there.

As I wrote for TIME: “The site itself inspired festivity. Bright, Olympic pink roadside banners mark the two-lane highway as spectators near the north short venue. The spectator viewing area is bursting with vivid color. More than 31,000 annuals, marigold and petunias were trucked in and planted along with several sycamore and alder trees to create park-like setting. Spectators spread their blankets on a grassy knoll where they have apanoramic view of the 2,700 acre lake.”

The Swedish women's team give each other a big hug on the podium after receiving their gold medal for the 500 meter kayak doubles. Canada took silver and West Germany the bronze.
The Swedish women’s team give each other a big hug on the podium after receiving their gold medal for the 500 meter kayak doubles. Canada took silver and West Germany the bronze.

To the athletes, it was, as then Olympic rowing commissioner Barry Berkus put it: “almost like a resort.”  Because their primary quarters was located 28 miles away, a mini-village was created at the sight that overlooked the lake complete with a pool built especially for them.

The big names on the U.S. rowing team that everyone was pinning medal hopes upon were John Bigelow from Seattle. Bigelow’s chance for a medal chances was washed away by Finland’s powerful Pertti Karppinen but Brad Lewis from Los Angeles and his partner, Paul Enquist, also of Seattle, considered ‘dark horses’ surprised many by taking the gold in their doubles race. All three rowers figure prominently in journalist and author David Halberstam‘s masterful book about the ’84 men’s eight row team, “The Amateurs: the Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal.”   I recently read Halberstam’s book, right after having finished another good book about the sport, “The Boys in the Boat,” by Daniel James Brown. Both are excellent books, set in different time periods (Brown’s takes place before and up to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin) and detailing the drama behind the dream.

A member of the Australian women's coxed four rowing team shows off her bronze medal to an admirer.
A member of the Australian women’s coxed four rowing team shows off her bronze medal to an admirer.

But it was the women’s eight who  thrilled the crowd by taking the first gold medal in for the U.S. in that event. Champagne flowed. Fans cheered. Autographs were signed. As I overheard one observer say:  “How things have changed in rowing. They’re getting autographs. It used to be lucky to get anyone to come.”

Olympic team members signed autographs for the fans.
Olympic team members signed autographs for the fans.

Indeed, the sport of rowing has grown even more popular. In 1981-82, only 43 NCAA schools had women’s rowing teams. Today, that number has more than tripled to 143, including Western Washington University in Bellingham, where I live. Over the years, I’m proud to say that several members of the women’s Division II championship crew teams have worked with me as my studio assistant.

As for the ’84 Olympic teams, the U.S. took home eight medals tying with Romania, one of the only Eastern bloc countries to participate in those Summer Games.  In fact, the Romanians took home more gold medals in rowing than any other country. They also cleaned up collecting ‘gold’ onshore from spectators as they sold Romanian t-shirts and model wooden shells to earn money to buy and take back with them stereo sound components.

The Romanian crew team sold miniature wooden sculls to spectators to earn money for stereo equipment.
The Romanian crew team sold miniature wooden sculls to spectators to earn money for stereo equipment.

Lake Casitas is again vying for to be the venue for the Olympics in 2024 if Los Angeles is selected in what would be the 40th year reunion of the Olympic Games. If it’s successful, I might see you there!

 

 

Olympic Memories

Like many of you, I have spent the past few evenings,enjoying the Olympic Winter games in Sochi via television in the comfort of my home.  As a journalist, I covered the Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles as part of TIME Magazine’s team.  It was a thrill to report everyday to my assigned events of kayaking, rowing, canoeing and water polo and write about the day’s competition and behind-the-scenes activity of the athletes for the reading public.

It’s not often that the Olympics take place in your backyard so when the Winter Games came to Vancouver, Canada four years ago, I took the opportunity to go.

Going to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver was a big thrill. Guess I can cross that one off my'bucket list.'
Going to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver was a big thrill. Guess I can cross that off  my ‘bucket list.’

Vancouver lies just 45 miles from Bellingham,Wa. where I now live and work. While I was no longer a ” working  journalist” I wrote about my adventures at the games for my friends and followers on my personal Facebook page. (I’m happy to share some those stories with you if you’d like). I encouraged everyone living within two hours of Vancouver to go whether or not they had a ticket to any of the events because there was so much to see and do at the Olympics.

The Olympic spirit is contagious. You can catch it just being around the venues or any of the many special events, concerts and spectators who come to cheer on their athletes. There is plenty to see, experience and photograph. In order to attend the actual competitive events, you must enter your name and choice of events into a lottery for the tickets alloted to your country. I ordered mine a year and  a half before the actual Games. Any leftover tickets are placed for purchase at ticket booths at the Games.

I was fortunate to pick up tickets through the lottery for speed skating and a preliminary game in women’s hockey.

American skater J.R. Celski in fourth place closes in on Canada's skaters Olivier Jean in first in the final laps of the men's speed skating relay race. in the 2010 Vancouver games.
American skater J.R. Celski in fourth place closes in on Canada’s skaters Olivier Jean in first in the final laps of the men’s speed skating relay race. in the 2010 Vancouver games. The men’s team took the bronze in the event.

On the day that I went to pick up my tickets, I was lucky enough to bump into another American who had two extra tickets for the women’s Gold Medal hockey game that he wanted to sell. I didn’t hesitate. What a thrill it was to sit in the arena–the same one where Vancouver’s NHL team, the Canucks, regularly play, and cheer for the American women’s team as they played against the Canadian women. The game was fast-paced and close with the Canadians taking the gold in the end. Even though the Americans had to settle for a silver medal, I couldn’t help but be excited for the Canadians who were jumping and up and down over their victory.

The entire arena erupted along with the skaters on the ice when the Canadian women's hockey team took the Gold Medal against the Americans during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
The entire arena erupted along with the skaters on the ice when the Canadian women’s hockey team took the Gold Medal against the Americans during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

The entire Winter Games in Vancouver was a huge one for Canada as they took more gold medals that year than any other country and in events that they had never won. Canada also broke the record for the most golds won by a NOC at a single Winter Olympics, according to the International Olympic Committee. The previous record was set by the Soviet Union in 1976  with 13 gold medals and then was matched by Norway in 2002.  Overall, the 2010 Olympics created  a huge boost of national pride in Canada. It was a privilege to be there to share in some of it.

Returning from the gold medal women's hockey game, I ran into members of the women's hockey from Finland who had just picked up their bronze medal. They were more than happy to stop for photo and to show off their hard-won prize.
Returning from the gold medal women’s hockey game, I ran into members of the women’s hockey from Finland who had just picked up their bronze medal. They were more than happy to stop for photo and to show off their hard-won prize.

I carried my camera with me wherever I went..There was so much to capture, just as I’m sure as is the case for all those now attending the Winter Games in Sochi. In Vancouver, I was able to take my professional camera with an excellent telephoto zoom lens into the events. Whether or not that’s the case in Sochi, given the elevated security concerns, I don’t know. I recorded some wonderful images of the Vancouver competitions and of the activities surrounding it all. Now, as I watch these Olympic Games I remember all that I did at the games in Vancouver. Those memories along my photos has made viewing the 2014 Games even more personal and compelling.

An enthusiastic group of Russian fans at the 2010 Olympics were ready to host the 2014 Games in Sochi.
An enthusiastic group of Russian fans at the 2010 Olympics were ready to host the 2014 Games in Sochi.

I hope that one day, you’ll experience the Olympics firsthand for yourself. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy revisiting the Vancouver Olympics through the lens of my camera. You can see more of my images from the Vancouver games on my blog’s Portfolio page: https://cherylcrooksphotography.wordpress.com/portfolio/  Or simply click on the word ‘Portfolio’ at the top this page and you’ll go directly there!

Happy Birthday, Champ!

Richard Knight is a real champion! Last July, at age 79, he won 6 gold medals in the Senior Olympics swimming events in Tacoma, WA. and he broke five records. That in itself is quite a feat, let alone doing it at 79. For a gold medalist, Richard is a pretty humble guy.  I had the honor of making his portrait a few days after his incredible performance in the pool.

Senior Olympian Richard Knight won six gold medals and set five records in swimming at age 79.

Senior Olympian Richard Knight won six gold medals and set five records in swimming at age 79.

Richard turned 80 on April 6th. He’s now training for this year’s upcoming Senior Olympics. I hope I’ll get to see him swim. He’s the kind of guy who inspires us all to strive to do our record-setting best.

Congratulations, Richard and Happy Birthday!

To read more about this remarkable man and his accomplishment, click here to go to my blog post:  A Knight in Shining Armor  https://cherylcrooksphotography.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/a-knight-in-shining-armor/

A Knight in Shining Armor

While  Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps were racing for medals in London on the U.S. Olympic team, swimmer Richard Knight was winning them in Olympia.  Six to be exact.  All gold.  And breaking five records.  If that wasn’t impressive enough, even more impressive is the fact that Knight, who was competing in the Senior Olympics in Washington, is 79.

Richard Knight’s smile beams as brightly as his gold medals.

Knight was himself an Olympic contender back in 1956 when he swam in the Olympic trials.  As a member of the UCLA swim team, he competed as a breaststroker for two years.  But during the trials, a swimmer from USC, Olympic great Bobby Hughes, edged him out of a spot on the team. He left California in 1973 and moved to live on a ranch in Montana where he and his wife, Shelley, raised a family.  He went to work as high school counselor and set swimming aside.

But few years ago, a fellow teacher told him about the Senior Olympics.  “I hadn’t ever heard about it,” he says. After 36 years, he jumped back into the pool and started to train. Seriously.  He found “it wasn’t as easy as it used to be.”  But he began entering competitions again and winning them.  Every event.

To date, he’s won about 60  medals, including three bronze at the National Senior Games in Palo Alto and silver at the World Senior Games in Park City, Utah a couple years ago.  His made so many waves on the scoreboard that it  prompted one competitor at the National Games–where 10,000 participated– to ask him:  “Where did you come from?”

With six gold medals hanging around his neck, Knight is a serious challenger to his competition.

His performance in last Sunday’s Senior Olympics was among his best. He trimmed an astonishing 21 seconds off the record in his age division–75 to 79 years– to win the 100 yard breaststroke.  Another record fell when he cut 7 seconds off  the 50 yard breast stroke.  In the 25 yard backstroke, he shaved off another 2 seconds to win that event.  And in the 25 yard breast stroke, he swam 20.77 seconds, to pick up yet another gold medal and record.  He won a fifth gold in the 25 yard freestyle busting that record too. Trim and fit with a twinkle in his eye and a warm smile, he’s pretty modest about his incredible accomplishments.  Unlike some of this year’s Olympians who will retire after this year’s London games, Richard shows no intention of stopping just yet.  He’s looking forward to improving his breaststroke, to entering another competition,  winning more medals and maybe busting a few more records.

After the photo session with Richard. Gold medals hang around Richard’s neck; a light meter hangs around mine.