Top 10 wrestling images
Wrestling - the hardest sport to photograph
There are many reasons why wrestling is the hardest sport to photograph.
1. There is no start or finish line to focus on. Movement can go anywhere.
2. Lighting is indoors and usually poor, resulting in small depth of field.
3. Movement is quick so your reaction time must be quick also.
4. Focus is constantly changing and in all directions.
5. Backgrounds are usually distracting.
6. When you think you have a great image, the referee steps in the way.
(high school and college are even worse, they put 3 referees on the mat, kind of interferes with being a spectator sport.)
Scroll down to see my Top Ten wrestling images of 2018 United World Wrestling Championships
All are placers in just one tournament and this is not a complete list..
Not all projects work out
(a good story and lessons learned )
There are three things that have shaped my life other than family - Wrestling - Photography - World Travel. I actually started photographing wrestling back in 1968. Had my first cover of a magazine by 1972. My wrestling experience started in 7th grade (1962) but my father was a college wrestling coach, on the NCAA rules committee and in five Hall of Fames, so I guess I was born into it. The better wrestling photographers I know have had wrestling experience. This helps in anticipating moves and set-ups.
Know the sport you are photographing
Here's the story and why this project of Wrestling Heroes never worked out.
1981 to 1983 I worked for the National Governing Body of Wrestling. I was a 33 year old National Public Relations Director in charge of all publications and publicity. Some of you may have heard of the NCAA - AAU battles from 1960 to 1983. Well the NCAA did not have the money to fight sports like Swimming, Track and Field, and Boxing so they centered on the poor sport of wrestling in 1970. If they could defeat a financially weak sport then they could apply the precedent to all sports and gain control of big dollars in marketing and promoting sports.
You can be out spent for the defeat
Unfortunately, I inherited a good portion of that mess, but I attacked it with all the zeal of a 33 year old investigative reporter. When I found out all the facts and discovered dirty politics I told the boss that this was a case of educating the grass roots. Before I go on with the lessons of the story I'd like to point out that this was 40 years ago and I am not looking to dig up old battles. I am happy with what the current NGB has done for the most part.
Know when to drop it
The first thing I noticed was that the AAU's publication was a piece of crap. There was no design or layout to attract the readers attention. You could have put the information on rolls of toilet paper and had better readership. You need to be more than a writer. The first thing you have to do is have a great presentation to attract their attention. Next, you have to have some worthwhile interesting content. Images are the most important content because that is how humans communicate with theirselves. Words are only effective if they create pictures. The latest neuroscience has proven that our brain works from seeing and to a much lesser degree the other four senses. I designed a sports Illustrated type of layout and any copy was honest, clear and to the point, just like a photograph should be.
Vision is most important
Without getting into any of the battles, the publication was a big hit and the subscription went from 13,000 to 63,000 in five months. The AAU had lost 3 court cases before I arrived and it looked as if my publications were turning it around. In reality an "International" organization has the right to choose their own rules and own members. The International Governing Bodies of each sport have to be independent of any one nation and have the right to toss out any member who does not comply with their rules. They were happy with the AAU. However, US judges felt their power was being stripped and in the end the US judges won out after they made the 1980 Sports Act retroactive. Never in the history of the USA has a law been applied retroactive until then. The 1980 Sports Act provided money to prevent the Olympic Committee from going bankrupt after the Boycott of the 1980 Olympics. Senator Bellmon of OK received a $250,000 check for slipping in the Bellmon Rider at the midnight hour without a reading. That allowed the retroactive rule. Last bill of the day, before recess. And the only reason the Olympic Committee went along with the boycott was that Bill Simon promised every sport millions of dollars to improve their programs. Well it was cut by Congress from 65 million to 4 million and none of the 30+ sports received anything. The Boycott was not necessary, it didn't slow down Soviet aggression. In the long run wrestling and all sports won with the court ordered merger because it eliminated the bitter feud between sports organizations. It did give control to a dominate one party system though.
Politics and sports should never mix
After the NCAA won with their 36 lawyers to one, I was pretty much banished from wrestling. After the 1984 Olympics one of the coaches from their side said for the past year there was an all points bulletin not to talk to me. I was considered "the most dangerous man in wrestling." But I was a hero to so many others for speaking truth. I was involved with international wrestling for another 7 years (1991), primarily with exchanges. Then I was catapulted into international politics because of my photographic and design ability, which is another interesting story.
37 years after I was ostracized I wanted to give something back to the sport I loved so much. I thought my greatest gift would be my photography because I saw what it did back in the day and my photography had improved so much since then. This project - Wrestling Heroes came to mind.
Wrestling Heroes Project
What if every mat room in the country and every wrestlers' bedroom was plastered with wrestling heroes - our World and Olympic placers in the past 8 years. Perhaps we could generate enough enthusiasm and money to bring back wrestling to our colleges and universities. You don't have to be a world placer to appreciate the living skills that wrestling teaches youth. Self-sacrifice, self-discipline, self-reliance, dedication, hard work, ethics, and the list goes on. And now it is just not for men, ladies wrestling is the fastest growing sport in the nation. That eliminates the Title Nine reason all administrators gave to eliminate wrestling.
Wrestling develops leaders
To do this I needed to photograph all our wrestlers in action culminated with the 2020 Olympics. I have all but two right now and of course any that place in what is now 2021 Olympics. I started by going to the United World Wrestling Championships in Budapest (2018). Got contact information for the Japanese Olympic Organizing Committee and applied to them for photography credentials through the largest wrestling magazine in the world - Wrestling USA which I had 7 covers for. This was two years ahead of time. Japan sent me a note back saying they would be in touch. I waited patiently. When other photographer friends said they had received their credentials I emailed Japan several times. One said they did not accept gmail requests so I had the editor of Wrestling USA send a request. They told me that it had to go through the local National Governing Body. So I go to the wrestling NGB and tell them the situation and I was informed that all requests had to be two years in advance no exceptions.
I followed what I thought were the rules, but rules change, and it was my responsibility to educate myself. Now, I will stack my wrestling photography up with anyone in the world. It would be interesting if the Olympic Committee would chose their photographers by a competition.
Project denied - Out of my control NOW.
So why do I bring up something that happened 40 years ago? There is talk in Congress that U.S. should Boycott the Beijing Olympics. I know what it did to our 1980 Olympic Team. Men and Women who dedicated their lives to be the best and the opportunity was ripped from them. Most people were not around then, and while I am not asking to reverse decisions that were made 40 years ago, I think it is important to understand history. I was in a position to witness more than nearly everyone. Let's go forward with what we have, but not to forget what we have learned from the past.
This whole story is an important lesson to know and a risk anyone takes on any project. One misstep can ruin a whole project. Don't let it ruin your life. Get up for the next project and hopefully a little wiser, but drop the bitterness, it will only slow you down. Use experiences to improve your life.
Sorry I could not make this project happen. I really wanted it to happen. As I get older, I make mistakes that I wouldn't have when I was younger. Do as much as you can, as soon as you can. ~ RGT