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28th Olympic Games - JO

Athens, Greece, August 14-28, 2004

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The "joys" of covering the Olympics

Olympic cycling is not the same as regular cycling when it comes to getting up close an personal with the riders. In Athens, like any other Olympics, media access to the riders is a major headache, brought on by strict Olympic rules and very tight security, as our correspondent Rob Jones writes from Athens.

Access is proving to be the biggest bugbear of the Games. Cycling press (and the UCI media liaison, Enrico Carpani), are used to being able to mix with the riders both pre- and post-race, and photographers are used to being able to go pretty much anywhere they want.

However, as we are constantly reminded "this is the Olympics". There is no access to the barricaded course - police with machine guns will immediately pounce on you. We have a few photo zones, but they are also behind the barricades, which sort of defeats the purpose. There are no photo shuttles: usually there are vehicles that constantly circulate the course, and photographers flag them down to be transported to different areas. Here, you use the subway and walk/run everywhere. To enter the finish area, you must go through security screening - x-ray and metal detector - each time.

You are not allowed to speak to or access the riders before the race (we kept sneaking in, and the security kept grabbing us and throwing us out), and after the race there is an area called the 'Mix Zone' where every TV, radio and print outlet stands and screams at the riders, trying to attract their attention and get them to come over and talk. When they go to the team pit row, where each team has a tent, and you can usually talk to them after (or during if they abandon), you are denied entry.

Of course, media are permanently denied entry to the Village. Veterans agree that this is even worse than usual, partially due to the somewhat justifiable security paranoia. We have discovered one technique that sometimes works; refuse to budge and argue with them if you get into a restricted area, and eventually they might throw up their hands and leave you there. However, if they summon a guy with a machine gun, then you capitulate and immediately start working on your next attempt.

TV coverage for the print journalists in the media centres has also been worse than the usual blanket raw feed, with almost no indication of who is in the lead, what point we are at in the race and so on.

The other big problem is that there is only dial up access at the cycling venue media centres, which may work for writers, but is ridiculous for photographers trying to transmit photos. In fact, there is only dial up everywhere, including the MPC (Main Press Centre). However, Kodak, who are the official Olympic partner, have set up wireless high speed in their lounge in the MPC, so everyone crowds in there, or finds an internet cafe. Blessed be the name of Kodak, amen.

On the other hand, everyone is very friendly, and the transportation does run pretty much on time.

So, when anyone asks us "isn't it exciting to be covering the Olympics?", most of us roll our eyes. Yesterday, my day began at 7:00 am, and ended at 2:00 am, when I finally just went to bed, still without absolutely everything finished. Back up and going at 7:30 am today.

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