The Spirit of the Olympic Games Through Images: An Interview with Richard Whiting of IMAGO

The Spirit of the Olympic Games Through Images: An Interview with Richard Whiting of IMAGO

How have sports images evolved over time in the Olympic Games? From iconic moments captured by analog cameras to advanced cameras and equipment, Richard Whiting, Senior Global Sports Manager at IMAGO, sheds light on this remarkable evolution.

As the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris approach, The Game Magazine brings you an exclusive interview with Richard Whiting, Senior Global Sports Manager at IMAGO. Richard shares his passion for sports photography and reflects on his experiences at the 1998 and 2000 Olympics. He discusses how this monumental sporting event unites nations and celebrates the resilience of the world’s best athletes.

In our conversation, Richard delves into the evolution of sports imagery, recalling iconic moments like Muhammad Ali lighting the Olympic flame at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. He highlights the challenges photographers faced in the era of analog cameras, where capturing the perfect shot was often a daunting task. Today, advancements in technology offer photographers a multitude of options, allowing them to convey powerful emotions and enabling the media to select images that best communicate the essence of the event.

A portrait of Richard Whiting.
A portrait of Richard Whiting. Image courtesy of Richard Whiting.

Would you mind sharing a brief introduction about yourself and your journey at IMAGO?

My name is Richard Whiting, and I am the Senior Global Sport and Entertainment content Partnership Manager representing IMAGO in the UK.

Could you tell us about the history of your interest in sports photography and what initially caught your attention?

I have been in the Sports photography industry for over 25 years. I first started out working in the post room at Allsport Photographic which was later acquired by Getty Images. From day one I was hooked, and I wanted to learn more and more about sports photography and the processes the photographers would go through to obtain the images we see on a daily basis.

Reflecting on your time at the Sydney 2000 and Nagano 1998 Olympics, could you share a few standout moments or unforgettable experiences that really captured the spirit of those Games?

Both games brought so many amazing memories. Working in Nagano was my first experience of being away from home, so I was a little homesick. Having said that, I was blown away by how friendly and welcoming the local people were. The way we were treated was as if we were athletes competing at the games. I was once in a restaurant with a colleague when we were surrounded by the employee’s requesting pictures and autographs. I was later told they thought I was a celebrity (I will not say who ha-ha)
Sydney 2000 was also a great experience, the team put together for these Olympics was on another level. I always looked at working at these events as an honour, not many people get to do but it’s hard work, and sometimes you are working 15/16-hour days, but this all becomes the normal routine. One of the standout memories for me was after every working day, I would literally walk past the Olympic stadium, and I would look up and see the Olympic flame lighting up the night sky, and I would feel extremely proud of how far I had come.

 Olympic Cathy Freeman
IMAGO / HochZwei | Cathy Freeman from Australia proudly presents her gold medal in the Women´s Athletics at Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

Having experienced the Olympics first-hand, how has attending there personally influenced your perspective on sports and photography?

This is a very good question. I was always into watching and attending sporting events from a young age; I would literally watch every sport. Working at the Olympic games can show first-hand the pressures the athletes and the photographers are under to get things right. Athletes spend years getting to compete at the Olympics, and photographers or photography agencies are no different, people may not know how many years it takes to put the right team and the amount of work it takes to be prepared for the Olympics.
Sports photography back in 1998 was still shot on film so looking back can you imagine being a photographer and having the responsibility to make sure you get that winning moment but without having the luxury of having more frames per second to shoot.

“Working at the Olympic games can show first-hand the pressures the athletes and the photographers are under to get things right.” – Richard Whiting.

Bob Beamon Olympic
IMAGO / United Archives International | Bob Beamon, in a prodigious leap that bettered the old world record by more than two feet, leaps 29 feet 2 and a half inches in the men’s long jump to win the gold medal at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

Can you describe the changes you’ve observed in media coverage of the Olympics over the years, along with how the demand and style of Olympic photography have evolved during that time?

This question brings me back to the above question. Back in the day if you were able to get accreditation for the Olympics or any other major event you were regarded as the best in your field. This would be rewarded by media outlets selecting the best photography available and the images people would see reflects the hard work and dedication the photographers would put into making sure they captured these moments.
Today, you have more and more photographers, influencers and the public trying their hand at being a sports photographer which has resulted in more content for media outlets to choose from and in my opinion sometimes the best image is not always selected.

In your opinion, what is the most significant way that Olympic photography impacts public perception of the Games?

I think the Olympic Games are one of the most unique sporting events in the world. From day one of the opening ceremony until the Olympic flame being extinguished at the closing ceremony, the games bring the world together. Imagery helps the public to celebrate and embrace the world’s best athletes. The photographers have a duty to capture the games from a sporting perspective but also to give those who are watching around the world the feeling of what it would be like if they were there. The passion of the crowds, the amazing sites and scenes of the nation selected to host the games and that carnival atmosphere. In the world we live in today, I think sports have a massive part in bringing nations together more than ever.

Olympic Games images
IMAGO / ABACAPRESS | London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony at the Olympic Stadium.

What are some of the unique challenges faced when capturing and selling photos from such a diverse and dynamic event as the Olympics?

The challenges I believe we as an agency face is being one of those agencies that people remember. The level of agencies and photographers who attend grow year on year and we need to make sure we are working with the best. I also think, if a company has a great archive of material from the Olympic games gone by, this is where a company could make great revenue.
Before the digital age the photographers would have to plan and make a decision where they would position themselves in hope they were in the right place at the right time to capture that winning moment. When shooting an event on film you didn’t get the luxury you do today of being able to over shoot in hope you have one image good enough to sell.

Are there specific types of Olympic photos that tend to become more iconic or in demand than others? What makes them stand out?

I think if an athlete breaks a world record or celebrates in a way which captures everything great about the Olympics then these are the images which live in the memory and become iconic. Also, some Olympic games have produced moments that shows the human side. At the end of the day, the Olympics is a sporting event but sometimes real life comes to the fore front which brings emotion that sometimes doesn’t come from winning a gold medal.

“I think if an athlete breaks a world record or celebrates in a way that captures everything great about the Olympics, these are the images that live in the memory and become iconic.” – Richard Whiting.

Olympic Games images
IMAGO / GRANGER Historical Picture Archive | American runners Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) show the Black Power salute during the medal ceremonies at the Olympics in Mexico City in 1968.

Can you share tips on how clients can choose images that will capture audience attention for different media, such as newspapers, social media or documentaries?

I have always loved the research part of my job because earlier in my career, the selections I made would be the ones used in newspapers, magazines, books and on TV. I genuinely would get enjoyment in seeing this. I believe the best images are those that can tell a story and show the raw emotion of victory. When selecting images, I want those who read newspapers, online articles, or watch films & documentaries to get that goosebump feeling. For example, Usain Bolt crossed the line, screaming down the lens of a camera and arms out wide. This image gives me goosebumps and makes me wish I was there to experience the atmosphere in the stadium at that moment in time.

“I believe the best images are those that can tell a story and show raw emotion. When selecting images, I want those who read newspapers, online articles, or watch films & documentaries to get that goosebump feeling.” – Richard Whiting.

Olympic Games images
IMAGO / ABACAPRESS / Gouhier Hahn Nebinger | Usain Bolt from Jamaica celebrates after breaking the world record with a time of 19.30 winning the gold medal in the men’s 200m final during the track and field athletics event of the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

From your experience, what are the most difficult sports or moments to capture at the Olympics, and why?

Tough question. Pressure wise I think it must be the 100m Final. The photographers literally have under 10 seconds to capture the race, the winner crossing the line and then the aftermath of the photographer scrambling to get the all-important celebrations and what the athlete does next.
From a photographer’s perspective I could imagine sports that are held in the swimming pool or small areas are tough to photograph. The closed areas, the heat, the noise generated by the crowds etc., there seems to be a lot going on, and for me, I am not sure I could physically do it.

 Olympic Games images
IMAGO / Laci Perenyi | Ben Johnson of Canada wins the Olympic gold in the men’s 100m final ahead of Carl Lewis at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea.

What strategies do you employ to delve into and effectively meet the unique requirements of your clients when selecting and using Olympic photos?

Firstly, I need to understand the usage and the story they are trying to tell. Once I have a full understanding, I can look further into the brief and identify certain events or athletes that may suit the final usage by memory.

Are there emerging markets or technologies you are particularly excited about?

There is a lot of talk and noise around A. I and how images can and will be used in the future. From a personal point of view, I think when it comes to sports photography I still get excited about historical photography. I like to know the story of how the shot was taken, especially if it is an image only one photographer managed to capture.

Can you recount the fascinating backstory of one of the most iconic Olympic photos that has left a lasting impression on you?

Being a massive boxing fan, I think one of the most iconic Olympic images ever taken and left me with a lasting impression on me (Even talking about this and looking at the below images makes me emotional ) was the moment Muhammed Ali lit the Olympic flame at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. Ali will always be remembered for being the ‘greatest’ of all time in the boxing ring, however, on this night, he showed the world what courage looks like. In front of billions of people watching around the world, this once great champion takes to the stage while battling Parkinson’s disease and lit the Olympic flame. I remember due to the windy conditions, the flame took a while for the flame to light up the night sky, however, once it was lit, Ali stood there while the world watched in awe.

 Olympic Games images
IMAGO / Camera 4 | Mohammad Ali from the United States lights the Olympic flame at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
 Muhammad Ali Olympic Games
IMAGO / Sven Simon | Muhammad Ali (USA) appears on a large screen during the lighting of the Olympic flame in Atlanta, 1996 Olympics.

The credit of cover photo: IMAGO / ABACAPRESS

Read more about the Olympics in The Game Magazine:

How a husband-and-wife team won four Olympic gold medals at the 1952 Games?

The good, bad and ugly of Olympic photography – an interview with Sammy Minkoff

See IMAGO’s exclusive collections for the Olympics 2024.

Discover The Game Magazine’s EURO 2024 Special Edition.