Sports Media Trainee Programme 2014-2015 WJCC Blog

© WCF / Richard Gray

Stephen Bark from Ayrshire in Scotland, a sports journalism student from the University of the West of Scotland, and photographer Patrick Fulgencio from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, who is studying at the University of King’s College, have joined the WCF media team at the 2015 World junior Curling Championships, in Tallinn, Estonia.

They are the latest competition winners in the WCF Sports Media Trainee Programme, which is sponsored by the USA’s Foundation for Global Sports Development.

Among their other duties, Stephen and Patrick will be contributing to this daily blog recounting their experiences and feelings from their first world championship. They are both first-time visitors to Estonia, so they will also be sharing their thoughts on Tallinn.

Stephen Bark

Journalist

Travellers Tales

Most people are asleep at half past three in the morning but I was just waking up for my trip to Estonia for the World Junior Curling Championships. I had been looking forward to this moment ever since I got the call to say I’d be going to Tallinn. One thing I hadn’t been looking forward to was having to get up so early so I could catch the 6am flight from Glasgow, or the stopover in Amsterdam.

I had never been a particular fan of flying but the trip over wasn’t that bad, probably because I slept most of the way. Even from my arrival in Tallinn I felt as if I was part of a team of great people. I had travelled with Mike, who I would be working with for most of the competition, and we met some of the TV guys at the airport. I hadn’t realised it would be so multi-national and everyone was very friendly.

After checking in at the hotel we headed to the Tondiraba Ice Hall for the last practice sessions. I had never been to an ice rink before so it was interesting to see everything that goes on in the background when nothing’s happening on the ice. Mike and I set up in our “office” for the week in the rink-side ice hockey boxes. I knew it was going to be cold, just, not quite as cold as it actually was. I’m sure that inside the arena is actually colder than outside and it’s pretty cold outside in Estonia.

After setting up in the venue we went back to the hotel and had a wonder around Tallinn’s old town. It is a beautiful city. Some parts look the same as they did more than 100 years ago, and sometimes, right next door may only be two or three years old. It really is a perfect location to hold an event like this.

Thankfully, we didn’t need to be up very early for the start of the competition on the Saturday. I don’t think I’ll be able to lie-in until 10am again, until I’m back home anyway. The bus was at quarter past 11 so that left plenty of time to get breakfast and to get ready for my first real time as a proper journalist.

We got to the venue in plenty of time for the opening ceremony. It wasn’t quite London 2012, just a small and informal affair. Gerd Kanter, an Estonian discus thrower and Olympic gold medallist, took the ceremonial opening shot and, for a discus thrower, it was pretty damn good. Now though, it’s down to the competition.

Going Solo

No, not the film that nearly went unseen, my first solo post match interview. The USA had just won their match 4-3 against Norway. It was their first win of the tournament so it was my job to get some quotes from their skip, Ethan Meyers. I had done a few interviews with Mike (Haggerty, WCF Journalist) but this was the first one I was to do on my own so I was a little nervous.

Everything went pretty smoothly, except for the point where my accent was just a little too thick for Ethan to understand.

I guess when it was an English speaking team then I assumed he’d understand me, I mean, it’s not as if I was speaking a foreign language.

Still, I got some good quotes and next time I’ll speak a little more slowly. It was a bit easier interviewing the Scottish skip, Gina Aitken, and even the English skip, Hetty Garnier. I guess that was because I wasn’t at all nervous but, mainly, because they could understand me.

I also got to meet Keith Wendorf, the WCF’s Director of Competitions and Development, and also a Technical Delegate at the 2016 Youth Olympic Winter Games.

He was very interesting to talk to and I learned a lot about his job and the Youth Olympics. The best teams here in Tallinn will qualify for Lillehammer 2016.

I’m not sure quite how many of the athletes here will qualify though. I know the 21 that were at Innsbruck 2012 won’t because they will be too old next year. I think I’ll try and talk to a couple of them about their experience and that could make a good feature.

I think that has been one of the best things about my experiences so far, getting to meet all these wonderful and interesting people. Whether it’s been journalists, photographers, athletes, a Canadian living in Sweden or a Norwegian with a Scottish accent, everyone has been really nice and helpful and it has helped me improve as a journalist.

So much so that I even got a chance to write a session report for the WCF website. I’m really pleased with the way it has turned out. Yeah, I’m still learning about curling but I knew the basics and the scores so I didn’t find it too difficult. Once I know more I’ll be able to put in more detail about individual shots amongst other things.

When in Rome

When in Rome, do as the Roman’s would do – so I did. I curled, for the first time!

You know how curlers make curling look easy? It’s not. It’s hard enough to find your balance on the ice, let alone move around, sweeping and throwing stones.

Then there are the sliders. They just make the ice twice as slippery. At least you have one grippy foot.

It is no easy task trying to manoeuvre yourself from the side of the rink to the hack, yet the pros can go all over the ice.

I did eventually manage to throw a few stones (one of them almost finished in the house!) after several successful attempts at avoiding falling over as well as one unsuccessful attempt.

It might only have been 15 minutes on the ice but in that short space you begin to realise just how difficult it is to play curling, let alone being good at it.

It makes you appreciate just how agile and athletic these ‘athletes’ are. I don’t think I’ll ever criticise another missed shot again for the simple reason that there is no way I could have done it.

We also visited the home of Estonian curling, a former Soviet missile factory. It’s not every day you get to go and see an ice rink in a missile factory!

The place is huge – it has two ice-hockey rinks and five curling sheets all under one roof. It must be four or five stories high but it is almost empty. Just some ice rinks, an office, café and the most surprising thing, a sauna.

The factory was built about 40 years ago and it looks a lot older than that yet, situated right in the middle of this dilapidated old building, is a beautiful modern sauna.

The hall with the ice rinks is freezing, it’s even colder than the Tondiraba Ice Hall, even colder than outside! It must be about -40c and everything inside it is frozen which isn’t helped by the roof – it must be the leakiest roof in Estonia.

The place was incredible. I was speechless when we walked in there, but with Tondiraba here now, I don’t see the missile factory lasting much longer.

One final thing, a shout out for Sweden. They played exceptionally well against Canada the other day and they did not deserve to lose and in such a cruel way as well.

Skip Fredrik Nyman missed his last shot for the point that would have seen them win 3-2 by approx. 0.002mm.

If his shot had been that tiny fraction further left, then Sweden would have won and be in with a shot at the 1v2 play-off. What a dramatic end to the game but that’s one of the brilliant aspects of this sport which makes it both so exciting yet incredibly dramatic.

The End of the Rollercoaster

It’s been a terrific week at the World Junior Curling Championships 2015. I didn’t know quite what to expect when I first got here but it has been a fantastic experience.

I’ve got to see some top class curling, met some amazing people and I can only see this helping me in future.

Anyway, on to the important stuff. Interviewing a winner, that’s easy. Interviewing someone who has just lost a match on the other hand, that’s a completely different story.

Usually the match winner is happy and they want to share how they are feeling and you can get some amazing quotes from them, for example, quote of the week from Canadian skip Braden Calvert on Canada’s gold medal win against Switzerland: “I’m still looking at the scoreboard to see if they gave us it.”

I had to speak to Gina Aitken after Scotland lost 2-9 in the 1v2 Page Play-off game against Canada. It was horrible. I could tell straight away that she didn’t want to talk, she just wanted to go and get ready for the semi-final. She was going to walk right past me and didn’t even look in my direction but I called her over and she did come and speak.

I asked her how she felt. I know, completely the wrong thing to do but it’s the question that needs answered. I bet me asking that question felt like a slap in the face to her. Sorry Gina. At least I got an answer. All three words of it.

Two questions is usually more than enough for a decent quote but this time it was more than enough questions to ask. When an athlete is feeling like that, it’s best to be short and sweet and get out their hair quickly.

I’ve got to give a shout out to Switzerland now as well. You may remember Sweden missing their shot by the tiniest of tiny margins against Canada in the round robin. Well, Switzerland did almost the exact same thing in the 1v2 play-off.

Romano Meier was approx. 0.007mm away from knocking the Canadian stone out of the house with the final stone of the tenth end to send the Swiss into the final.

Instead of winning by one, they lost by one. The full arena went silent. The Canadians didn’t even celebrate, they were that shocked at what had just happened and that’s how quote of the week came about.

Final Thoughts

I will always look back on my trip to Estonia with fondness, not just because of the amazing people I met, but also because of the way it has helped me improve as a journalist.

Having to work 9am until 10pm almost every day for week is tough going, but it has shown me the kind of effort and drive that I will need if I am to succeed in journalism.

I feel that, even in such a short space of time, my writing has improved because now I have experienced a true deadline.

This has helped me write better when there are time restraints, like when the last match finishes at 10pm and the bus to the hotel is at 10:15pm.

It’s much different to an ‘educational’ deadline of three weeks or whatever it may be. Okay, we have had simulated news days, but they don’t help anywhere near as much as this experience has.

I have definitely improved my interview skills, especially when it comes to talking to someone who has just lost their match.

It’s easy to know what a winner is feeling and help them express themselves so that you can get the right quote.

The difficult part is showing the right amount of compassion and empathy so that you don’t upset or annoy someone who has just lost their match, but still able to ask the right questions and get the right quote.

Even something as simple and fundamental as my people skills have improved.

The amount of people I have met and socialised with this past week that I am now able to call my friends is unbelievable.

Most of them are from foreign lands like Norway, Canada or Sweden and this has helped me to understand that even though they can speak English, I still need to slow down a bit so that I can be understood.

Thank you to the WCF for such a life changing experience.

Patrick Fulgencio

Photographer

© WCF / Richard Gray

Winning

Securing a place as trainee photographer at the 2015 WJCCs was not something I thought achievable just under a year into photography – but here I am, and what an honour it is.

It was Christmas break when the journalism school emailed the students about this opportunity. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard of this programme; last year, I got an email about the same opportunity but didn’t apply because I thought I wasn’t good enough.

It’s funny how that perception changed in a year because when the email landed in my inbox again I decided I wouldn’t take no for an answer.

In January, I spent every Friday and Saturday shooting Dalhousie University’s hockey games. I met a couple of seasoned photographers who helped me out with my shots. I had never shot hockey before so I’m really grateful for the advice that they gave me. At the end of the fifth game, I picked my best ten pictures out of a thousand and submitted them as instructed.

A few days later, I received an email telling me that I was shortlisted for the position. I was just getting off the bus when my phone notified me. I did a double-take and darted across the street to tell my girlfriend.

It was Thursday when I found out I won. That morning I submitted a paper that drained me so much I had to sit down and watch something mindlessly for a while.

I just opened up a video when my phone started ringing from under me. I didn’t think much of it at first but I saw an area code I wasn’t used to and my heartbeat must have hit a wall.

After the phone call, I couldn’t keep it together. Have you ever been so happy that you just straight up yelled at the ceiling? I was in a state of constant disbelief for a long time.

I didn’t believe it when the local paper had a piece written about me. I didn’t believe it when I departed from the airport in Halifax – not even on the plane ride.

When I reached the hotel, I got my card key from the receptionist and went to unlock my door. It wouldn’t work the first few times and I thought “No, I definitely just dreamed that I won this and I somehow made it to Estonia.”

Well, here I am now. It still hasn’t completely set in but I’m sure the work flow will greatly alter that once things pick up here.

Early Experiences

I had the pleasure of experiencing Old Town Tallinn on my first night here.

I consider myself lucky because I didn’t think I would have had the time to do any sightseeing but I was wrong. At the end of my first night in Tallinn, I’ve already learned so many things and met so many interesting characters. I’m excited for what the future holds.

Richard (Gray, the official WCF photographer) has got plans for me. He wants me to shoot all 100 players’ headshots at team practices tomorrow while he shoots the team pictures. I’m so excited I can’t sleep, but then again, that may very well be the jetlag.

A Learning Process

I didn’t think it was possible to improve so much in such a short period of time. But the results are very much visible!

With my mentor and the media team’s help, I’ve been able to see an exponential increase in my abilities as a photographer over the past three days.

This programme is more of a learning experience than I ever anticipated. The learning happens at every minute of the day.

I started with shooting the players’ headshots at the beginning of the event. It was simple enough, and I actually had a lot of fun.

I got to interact with each and every one of the players from all 12 competing countries. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to people from as many different places in one day. It’s surreal, like everything has been really (can you tell I’m still in disbelief?).

We finished the team pictures and headshots sooner than my mentor expected. He said it was one of the smoothest operations he has experienced for getting team pictures. All the teams were obedient and cooperative.

After that, we got to taking pictures of the practice. This was my first taste of photographing professional curling, and frankly I wasn’t too pleased with the shots I was taking but I knew I was there to learn so I knew not to be too hard on myself. This was practice after all. The real games started the next day so I had all day to learn.

The first two days of round robin games kept me on my toes. I was timid at first, after finding out where I could and couldn’t shoot. But once I got used to it, my timidity found a new thing to latch onto and it was like that for a while.

I learned very quickly what it meant to have metadata presets ready, and then I found something else to be anxious about. I learned even quicker about how I wasn’t supposed to walk in front of a person’s line of sight when they were throwing.

This whole process has taken me out of my comfort zone every time I got even the slightest bit comfortable. And for that I have become a better photographer for facing that anxiety.

I really feel like I’ve impressed my mentor and other in the media team with my pictures.

We spend most of our day at the rink, arriving just after the sun has risen and returning home after the last game – usually around 10.

You might think that 14 hours at the Tondiraba Ice Hall starts to become gruelling after the fourth day. But let me tell you, there hasn’t been a minute where I’ve felt the urge to look at my watch.

There’s never a dull moment here at the WJCCs and maybe that’s why I can’t sleep. Because the things I am experiencing are far more surreal than any dream could ever throw at me.

One of my favourite photos of the week so far! Photo: WCF/Patrick Fulgencio

History Lessons

Since I last wrote an update I have visited two former KGB sites. One was the Jeti Jaahall, a run-down missile factory that was turned into a curling and hockey rink. It was the rawest piece of history I had ever seen.

Everything was intact – and by intact, I mean uninterruptedly rotting where it stood. There were things that hadn’t been touched in decades at this rink. It was dim, it was cold, it was grungy, and the funny thing is that the temperature reminded me of the time I spent shooting my application pictures at the hockey rink in Halifax.

We were fortunate enough to be taken up to where most people weren’t allowed to go. We went up this cement stairwell, climbing some 90 feet before reaching our first door. It led to the lower roof that gave us a nice view of the area. It made me realize how flat Tallinn was. We climbed up more stairs and at some point the cement steps turned into metal ones.

We were finally on the roof. It was a precarious situation but I realized that a little too late. After looking down into the 100 foot drop below from behind a chain-link fence, I turned around to see a portion of the roof that looked as though a layer had been peeled off. I thought about it some more and realized that there is a reason why these roofs haven’t been walked on for a while. The possibility of them collapsing hovered around in my head for the rest of my time there.

The second place was Richard’s idea. It wasn’t really on the agenda for the trip but when you’re in a new place, no harm in getting as much of a grasp on its history. So that’s what we did instead of sleeping in on Saturday morning.

We were taken up to the top of the luxurious Original Sokos Hotel Viru, where a tour guide talked us through the KGB’s past activities in the hotel’s secret 23rd floor. Now, usually, historic tours bore me, but thanks to this witty tour-guide, he had my undivided attention. The stories I heard were too funny to believe, talking lamps and the like.

The hotel was under heavy surveillance due to the kind of people it accommodated, being potential threats to the KGB. There were all sorts of unassuming things that were bugged. The walls, plates, ashtrays, lamps. Anything you would have said would have been picked up by them. It was a short but informative tour.

Something New

Joanna thought it would be a great idea for Stephen and me to learn how to curl. I mean, why wouldn’t we? We’re at the World Junior Curling Championships after all. It was hard to stay balanced at first but after a few draws, I was able to keep balanced. After playing around for just 15 minutes I was gasping for breath. I have a lot more respect for the level of skill I’m witnessing here at the WJCCs.

One other thing I never expected out of this programme was how much of a cultural experience it was going to be. Talking to the players was one thing, but learning another language – I never saw that coming. I’ve been told that I’m a natural at speaking Swedish, which is great. I’m confident I’m never going to mess up asking for exactly eight glasses of wine in Sweden.

Another of my favourite photos from the week. Photo: WCF/Patrick Fulgencio

Photography

The round robin games are just about finished. It’s going to be a lot easier on me to get cleaner pictures. Richard stresses the importance of backgrounds that contribute to the whole picture and I realize the significance of that now, among many other things.

This week has been the most intense week of my photography career. The many things I learned have shown through in my pictures. The next two days’ worth of pictures will be the result of everything I have ever learned about taking a great picture.

It’s the final stretch and I don’t intend to let anyone down.

Mission Accomplished

It has been a crazy two days, shooting the semi-finals and then the medal games the next day.

While it was nice that I didn’t have to shoot ten teams at a time, the pressure of pushing the limits of my photography certainly outweighed that.

The end of the WJCCs was in sight and I was afraid that I didn’t have anything to show for.

All week, I had been trying to be at the right place at the right time when it came to shooting the end of a game.

It’s a difficult thing; you never know when you’re going to be perfectly positioned for a great picture.

Day after day, I would place myself somewhere new near the end of the game, scanning, analysing.

Who was going to have the biggest reaction? Where are they going to be? Where are they going to be facing? Day after day, I would take pictures that I was less than satisfied with.

On the last day, I took a step back from it all before the final games to review the things I had learned throughout the week. The announcer blared through the arena: “Good luck and good curling!”

I went out, mentally prepared.

It was the 11th end of the Switzerland v Sweden game. It had been a very close game all the way through and the tensions were high, despite this being a bronze medal game.

I placed myself in a position that produced some great jubilation pictures earlier in the week.

It was the last stone to be thrown by the Swedish skip, it was a simple win. Just a simple draw to remove the opposition’s stone from the house and the bronze medal was theirs – but my instincts told me that there would be more to that.

I watched closely.

The Swedish skip drew and my eyes followed her. This was where it all turned into a blur. My eyes left the viewfinder of my camera to watch the stone glide across the ice, while my arms locked to keep the Swedish skip in the frame.

The stone was drawn a little too far right – it hit her own and a big disappointed “ooooh” boomed throughout the arena.

This was it. This was my window, I knew the skip was going to react. I knew something was going to happen.

My finger struck the shutter when my eyes barely found the viewfinder.

It all happened so fast, but I saw it. I saw the gesture of devastation play out, framed by my viewfinder, while my shutter slapped away.

One look at that photo, and I knew I had come a long way since day one.

Another of my favourite photos from the week. Photo: WCF/Patrick Fulgencio

At the end of it all, I am impressed at the photographer I have become.

I am proud to say that I have pushed my gear to its limits and can confidently stand behind the pictures I have created.

Before embarking on this trip, I was insecure about the gear I was bringing.

I was primarily going to be using a Nikon D3300 with a 55-300mm. Looking at what I had, I instantly thought that I should rent out some higher quality lenses and bodies. I eventually convinced myself that the WCF picked me for my skills and not for my gear. With that thought, I put my all into it and no reward has been sweeter.

Right now, if I was to upgrade my gear, I can do so with the pride of knowing that I deserve the gear that I’ll be buying. It’s the best feeling in the world knowing that you are not restricted by your skills, but by your gear.

It’s almost as if I day dreamed this whole thing – day dreamed it all on the first day, while I was staring out the bus window, waiting to arrive at the hotel. Because here I am, staring out from the same spot on the morning of my departure.

I don’t think the disbelief ever really goes away. You just have to keep telling yourself that something so great can happen to you.

I was talking to Stephen about what he thought it was that got us into this programme. We both agreed that it was partly luck.

Not the simple kind of luck that wins people lottery tickets, it’s more sophisticated than that. Stephen wrote a wonderful lead that popped into his head on the night he wrote his application piece, and I made a few last-minute adjustments to my 10 application pictures. We agreed that these fleeting flashes of inspiration were what got us in with the WCF.

My journey here in Tallinn has come to an end. But I am happy to report that my involvement with the World Curling Federation has not. On March 28, I will be joining the media team again in Halifax to photograph the 2015 Ford World Men’s Curling Championship.

It will be grand, fast-paced, and twice as intense as the WJCCs – and I couldn’t be more excited for another adventure.

Until next time…