It is already recognised as one of the great sports photographs of our time: the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, turning his head to smile at rivals as he pulls away from them on the track at the Rio Olympics.
The photographer who took it, Cameron Spencer of Getty Images, was firing four cameras during the race and had been running alongside the track before planting himself still as Bolt took the lead. Getty reportedly had a total of 11 photographers covering the race, so Spencer knew he could take some risks.
Spencer, who is based in Sydney, told Business Insider he “saw Bolt look back” and noticed a grin, but it “wasn’t until later that I realised the extent of his smile”.
“It was a special moment,” Spencer said.
It sure was. In his next race, Bolt would cement his place in history by winning gold in the 100m final, becoming the first person to win three consecutive Olympic gold medals in the event. Spencer says the image will be entered for a Pulitzer Prize.
Here’s Spencer’s account of taking the photo, as told in an email to BI today:
I’ve been shooting Bolt for many years, three Olympics Games and two World Championships, and experience has taught me that shooting the fastest man alive is exciting, though there is a lot of pressure. To come up with a different creative image is a challenge. By the time the gun went off and the runners sprinted off their starting blocks, I was also sprinting with my gear in hand, which included three remotes in addition to my handheld camera, a Canon 1DX MK2. I had four cameras firing all at once.
My handheld had a 70-200 mm lens set at 135 mm focal length. I had to drop my shutter speed to about 1/40th of a second to capture the moment. At this point, my feet were planted on the ground but I continued to move my lens, following Bolt’s movement with my upper body. He was ahead of his opponents by now and in that single moment, I saw Bolt look back with a smile. The shot was captured with some motion, but it wasn’t until later that I realized the extent of his smile. I knew it was a special moment.
I’ve only had several of my images go viral before, but this one was a unique result of great timing paired with photographic risk taking, and a touch of luck. It’s an exciting feeling when your image resonates with the masses and this particular image tells a truly unique story.
One more time:
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