Sunday, February 7, 2016

Utah Gymnastics: Achieving Mid-Season Form

I'm not sure whether my title for this post refers to the Utah Red Rocks or to me as photographer, but it probably is accurate in both cases.  The Red Rocks are looking better with each meet (as evidenced by yesterday's 197.075 at UCLA!), and I'm doing my best to stay no more than a half-step behind them.  The photos here are from Utah's third home meet, vs Arizona.

I suspect that each and every time I've posted gymnastics images on my blog, I've mentioned my goal of capturing the grace, beauty and power of the sport.  Make no mistake about it--the athletes are doing their part!  This time around, for photographing floor exercises, I relied on a piece of equipment that never fails to amaze with its ability to obliterate backgrounds and isolate the gymnasts in glorious ways...when I nail the shot.  The Canon 200mm f/1.8 lens is magical, though not without some risk (see cut-off toes below).  I'm hopeful the special quality of the images  taken with this lens will be evident here.

Clicking on a photo will open a larger version.  Hope you enjoy them, and leave a comment if you are so inclined.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Utah Gymnastics: Pac-12 Champions

Utah dominated the field last night (UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State also competed in the evening session) to win its second consecutive Pac-12 Championship, but not without some late drama of the sort you never want to see.  On a night when the men’s basketball team earned a spot in the Sweet-16, and the gymnastics team continued its climb to the top in front of another record crowd, it was heartbreaking that one of its senior stars suffered a career ending injury.  It happened late, and emotions that already were high took a sudden, unexpected and rather intense turn.   But the remaining seniors showed their poise by stepping up and closing out the meet with a bang.  It was a bittersweet night.

Here are some photos, and anyone who has viewed my previous gymnastics posts will notice that a few things are different.  First, given the four-team format of the meet, photographers did not have floor access and were limited to the first two rows of seats in a limited number of sections in the arena.  Moving from section to section was a major undertaking (lots of stairs, had to carry all equipment, etc.) but necessary for shooting from what I deemed the best vantage points for each event.  Second, the position I chose for shooting bars offered me a new and interesting vantage point and the opportunity to try my camera's 'Zone AF' option; I thought it worked pretty well.... So here we go.  As always, click on the image to see a larger version, and let me know (comment) if you've been here!

Utah had the favored rotation, starting on vault then moving to bars, beam and floor.  Not sure if that was a function of hosting the meet or the result of some kind of lottery.  Either way, it seemed like an advantage and things got off to a great start with vault.

The highlight came in the form of a perfect score from Tory Wilson.

On to bars with a fairly substantial lead.  Nothing that happened here was going to get in the way of that.


Having increased their lead over the pack in the second rotation, Utah moved to beam, and I can’t imagine I was alone in thinking this would be the event that would tell the tale.  Walk away from beam with any kind of lead at all and bring it on home on floor.  

The Red Rocks were firing on all cylinders and if I’m not mistaken they earned their second-highest beam score of the season.  At any rate, they moved to their last rotation with a significant lead.  And here's where it got interesting, in a way no one wanted to see.  The first two routines went well.

Tory was third in the rotation and of course anticipation was high, just as are Tory's usual tumbling passes.  

Unfortunately, something went wrong during Tory's first tumbling pass and, as I understand it, she suffered an Achilles injury upon takeoff.  She landed hard and obviously was injured.  In retrospect, it's a wonder she managed the landing she did.

I think it's fair to say the arena deflated and for the athletes, all the emotion that was building toward their seemingly eminent victory now turned to shock and sorrow, and grief.  Three routines still to go and suddenly it was necessary for the three remaining seniors to pull themselves together and bring home the championship.  Amazingly but not surprisingly, that is exactly what they did, scoring in succession a 9.90, 9.95 and 9.925, and each showing upon completion of their routines what they'd had to suppress to get there.  These are incredibly strong, talented, proud and remarkable young women.

Greg and Megan were honored as Pac-12 co-head coaches of the year, and several of Utah's gymnasts earned individual awards.  Then of course there was the whole shebang in the form of Utah's second consecutive Pac-12 Championship.  Congratulations Red Rocks!  And I know I join thousands of fans in wishing Tory a full and speedy recovery.  She will be missed.