#ECC2018: Sport Media Trainee blog

  • © WCF / Richard Gray

Sandrine Wyrich and Stephen Fisher have joined the World Curling Federation media team at the Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships 2018, in Tallinn, Estonia.

They are the latest competition winners of the World Curling Federation's Sports Media Trainee Programme.

Sandrine Wyrich, 21, studying Journalism at the University of the West of Scotland in Paisley, Scotland
Stephen Fisher, 20, studying Photography at the University of Central Lancashire in Lancashire, England

Among their duties this week is to contribute to this daily blog, recounting their experiences from their first international curling event.

Sandrine Wyrich

Day one: Freezing cold and not a word of Russian

In Scottish slang the word “baltic” serves as a term for “very cold” and one can truly say that the Baltic country of Estonia deserves its name.

When we left the hotel in the morning, under a sky that looked grimmer than the future of the Scottish National Football Team, I started to appreciate that the Europeans are an indoor event. Sitting in an ice hall genuinely seemed to be the more comfortable option, and that tells you something.

The one word to describe the Tondiraba Ice Hall is 'massive'. The main hall with its five curling sheets is different to every other venue I have been fortunate enough to visit – I’ve grown accustomed to football grounds across Scotland as well as a couple of race tracks – and even before the actual competition got underway, it created that magical atmosphere of a sense of excitement before something big is about to happen.

The sheer size of it is simultaneously intimidating and impressive. It is, as I can tell from experience, big enough to get lost in and it wouldn't surprise me if it would, in fact, take me until next Saturday to find my way around without turning up at places I didn't even know existed.

The positive aspect is that you can have your organisers, journalists, athletes and so forth floating about in their hundreds – which is also approximately the amount of times someone moaned about the weather – and you can still manage to get around the place without feeling like you're getting in someone's way at every single corner.

With all that, plus being able to host both, the A and B-Divisions, under the same roof, this venue seems absolutely cut out to host a big event like the Europeans.

Speaking as someone who would 100% deck it when only thinking about an icy surface, seeing how comfortably and precisely the athletes move on the ice is more than impressive. It is evident that there's far more to curling than just pushing a big piece of granite on a slippery surface. With five games going on at the same time – and that's only the A-Division – there's always something to keep an eye on and you quickly learn to appreciate the diversity of facets, from speed to millimetre precision, curling offers.

Sitting on the media bench, with a view of everything, being able to observe and collect all the necessary information to write up bits and pieces and to then do so, is an amazing experience that no news room practice at university can even get close to.

Meeting the athletes was terrific. When observing a sport from the outside, you see performances. You see wins and losses, but you hardly ever see the athlete as a person. To be able to chat to them, even away from the ice sheet and without sticking a voice recorder or a camera in their face is just a situation you wouldn't usually find yourself in. It's mad to think that, as journalists, we are a catalyst to bring that more “human” side of an athlete to spectators through features and interviews. It's a big thing to do and, as I found out the hard way, it can be just a tad difficult – I used to think my Russian was limited to “Nastrovje” and that was before I found out that that is in fact Polish.

So, when I was sent to interview the Belarussian skip, whose English is about as great as my Russian, one could certainly say that language barriers were an issue – on that note, Nastrovje!

Luckily, as they say, where there's a will there is a way or, in my case, a translator.

It was nice to get to attend a meet and greet session with this year’s Swedish Olympic medallists later that day – all in English, fortunately – to collect quotes for a more “featury” type of thing as opposed to straight-forward news reporting. The diversity of what is required from a media team is astonishing and it's nice to know that the cliché of the “hard news reporter” isn't in fact true – not always anyway.

So, first day over and done with. One down, seven to go.

Day three: The Estonian and the Curling Stone

Anton Hansen Tammsaare wrote in the grounding classic of Estonian literature Truth and Justice that “miski pole võimato, niipea kui inimene hakkab sellest kord tõsiselt mõtlema”, which translates to “nothing is impossible as soon as a person starts thinking seriously about it”. As I found out this morning, this quote relates well to the development of curling in Estonia.

It was a different start to the day with the first destination not being the modern Tondiraba Ice Hall, but the rather decayed Jeti Ice Arena. The former Soviet munition factory was where curling essentially started in this country, and therefore the object of a video feature piece [pictured above © WCF / Stephen Fisher].

The Estonian curling scene was built here out of nothing when a worker found a set of abandoned stones from Finland in the darkest recesses of the hall back in 2003. After some research, he decided to offer curling alongside ice skating to the Estonian public in the arena. He started a vibrant sporting scene that eventually brought first the World Juniors and now the Europeans to the shores of the Baltic Sea.

The Jeti Ice Arena meanwhile continuously became a derelict building. The roughly 200 metre long hall, defined by concrete walls and iron struts, is nowhere near the sophistication the Tondiraba Ice Hall features and it isn’t hard to see why the growth of the sport demanded the construction of a new venue. The cold (and I mean COLD) temperatures and the staggering, as well as slightly depressing, aura made the place feel rather Soviet indeed and I’m glad that the championships take place in a more contemporary arena.

It was a return to the above mentioned venue afterwards and back to business as usual with a busy four round day in both the A and B-Division that needed bits and pieces written about.

Having actively watched curling for three days now (in all honesty, prior to the Europeans, I would watch the odd game at the Olympics and that would be pretty much the end of the story), I’m appreciating the fascination of it now.

To many of us occasional observers, the elemental coherences of this sport are as inaccessible as postulates of other secret sciences such as eurhythmics, phrenology or underwater jiu jitsu. The knowledge of the average citizen reaches from ’you push a stone on ice’ to ’you use brushes to make it go further’ and abruptly ends at that point. But there’s more to it and you recognise that quickly when actually paying attention.

The level of skill required to move a stone with millimetre precision is remarkable and the considerations that go into finding the right setting and the right strategy for each and every stone are mental. It’s certainly not just about sliding on ice without hitting the deck.

Since I’m used to writing in a more featuresque style, having to adapt to commercial writing tends to leave me with a feeling that can be described as similar to being ridiculously overdressed at a casual dinner party. It takes some getting used to, but so do most things after all. And who even needs details or adjectives?

Day five: The devil is in the detail

A feature writer in a commercial setting can be described as a pantomimist performing in front of blind people while an interpreter translates it to sign language. To me, adapting to commercial writing equals a voyage that would terrify even the likes of Ulysses, Jason and the Argonauts as well as Frodo Beutlin (which also explains why they never made it).

Thankfully, up to this stage, there were at least three sessions a day, plus the B-Division, and with the daily practice essentially being writing reports up, there are plenty of opportunities to say goodbye to adjectives and details (the proverb “the devil is in the detail” has never been more accurate) and, hopefully, get there in the end (or die trying).

Meanwhile, at the Europeans, the round-robin stage is ending and things are heating up.

There’s only a few play-off spots left and it’s the last chance for many teams to make an impression.

In fact, this competition might be the only thing in Europe right now that is more on fire than James Forrest.

From that point of view, it’s astonishing how approachable the athletes still are in this crucial phase of the tournament. I spoke to athletes from other sports before, and no one was ever dismissive or impolite, but these guys just coming off the ice after a game that may well have been vital for their semi-final ambitions and casually chatting away seems to be a new level of chill (no pun intended).

We’re past the halfway point now and it remains to be seen where the competition (and the commercial writing) goes from here.

Day seven: Closing Stages

The giant hero in Estonia’s national epic Kalevipoeg throws stones and talks to hedgehogs – no, I didn’t make that up. I dedicate myself not to meaningfulness but to absurdity and the hedgehog is my spirit animal, so for their identity tale alone I’m sympathising with Estonia.

In reality, for most people involved, the Europeans are mainly taking place in the Tondiraba Ice Hall and the hotel… and the shuttle bus in between. It was great to still see a bit of Tallinn and get more of an idea of Estonian culture.

Tallinn is often considered the medieval centre of Europe and it truly is a gem. The Old Town was included on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1997 as an “exceptionally complete and well preserved example of a medieval northern European trading city”. Its alleyways and winding streets feature detailed merchant houses, cobbled streets and red roof tops creating a unique spirit that makes wandering about more than worthwhile.

There is a life outside the championships bubble and even with limited time, it’s worth exploring.

The Europeans are ending and this is the last blog for me, which is better for everyone involved, let’s be honest.

Seven days of writing bits and pieces about the games taught me that there’s a lot of sitting around involved before all hell breaks loose like at the opening of a shopping centre on Black Friday, that the devil is indeed in the detail and most things actually aren’t that relevant and the fact that curling might just be a bit underrated. And, that it’s cold around here. Baltic, so to say.

Stephen Fisher

Day two: No rest for the wicked

Currently, my name is whatever Mike Haggerty – the World Curling Federation’s (WCF) head journalist – calls me. I started off as Stuart but then according to him I look like a Simon, so Simon it is.

I am someone whose life revolves around photography – I study photography at the University of Central Lancashire in England and I have a part-time job in motorsport photography mainly photographing the British Touring Car Championship and the British GT with Jakob Ebrey. I love a good challenge, and with a dream to become a professional sports photographer, the World Curling Federation have given me a fantastic opportunity. To say I’m ecstatic to be in Estonia with the WCF would be an understatement.

Oh, and by the way, my name is actually Stephen. But it will be fun to see how many names I gather before my time in Estonia is over.

I have discovered that the WCF media team know how to eat, drink and have fun whilst working. What more could you want? More importantly, I am working alongside a kind gent, called Richard Gray, with one of the best photographic eyes I have ever had the privilege to work with. Being keen and ready to learn from such professionals, it’s clear this is a great opportunity to enhance every aspect of my photographic practice. I also have the privilege of working with Alina Pavlyuchik, who was the very first trainee photographer in the Sport Media Trainee programme.

Even though I grew up in Ayrshire, in view of the birthplace of curling stones, Ailsa Craig, I am very new to curling. Despite binge watching six hours of curling before I arrived in Estonia I know there is a lot to learn. It is proving a great sport to capture and one I am starting to fall very much in love with. I am living the dream. I am battling with the adrenalin pumped long days and the need for some shut-eye. Strangely this is my idea of fun!

Here’s to one of the best events of the year. Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships 2018, Tallinn, Estonia.

Day four: Adults in the room

It’s a bit of a serious blog today as on Tuesday 20 November I started to learn more about the industry of photography. The who, the what, the where and the how.

The who

I’ve learnt today that it is clear that you have to make an impression and to stand out in your line of work. This doesn’t mean, however, just taking amazing photographs. Clean, sharp or beautiful, these aspects of your photography won’t necessarily help you get employed. Of course, it helps but there’s more to it than just a click of a camera.

Behind every click of a camera there is an individual. An individual that should be more than just a photographer – a photographer that knows someone who knows someone.

In the Olde Hansa – one of Tallinn’s many medieval bars – and another bar that I can’t remember the name of WCF colleagues started to tell me the do’s and don’ts of becoming a media employee.

It was pointed out to me that connections with other people were a very important aspect. The media community talk amongst themselves and, if you come up in conversation and the conversation ends badly, it’s not good for a freelance photographer like myself. Be kind, be enthusiastic, get stuck in and make sure you leave an impression.

Here’s hoping that I do.

The what

Eating lunch with Richard – my photography mentor – and Mike – the WCF’s journalist – money came into the conversation. I find that the general conversation of money is a touchy subject, however, this is a subject I am going to have to get used to, as it will impact on my everyday life.

Mike was telling stories about how newspapers asked him for an article or a contact that he knew and how he always wanted money in return for such work. Seems obvious now.

However, in one instance he was sat next to Rhona Howie – nee Martin – Ayrshires Olympic gold medallist, when a newspaper phoned Mike asking to speak to Rhona. Mike asked to be paid to hand over the phone to her. He wanted to be paid for a simple action of handing over the phone. And he is entirely in the right. Mike had dedicated money and resources to get himself to an event. Whereas this journalist had phoned him for a conversation that only he would have got by being next to Rhona.

Don’t think of the simple action of giving the phone to Rhona, but think of the time, money and resources that got him into that position. Mike should have and did get paid.

The Where

Be at the right place at the right time. Photographically position yourself to capture the best image possible.

With a working relationship engage with people inside and outside of the working environment. For instance, at the Olde Hansa, Alison – a World Curling TV commentator – and Caroline – the TV production manager – were also there. I took full advantage of this time to get to know them. From Caroline’s binge watching of TV series, to Alison’s time working at the BBC.

The How

When I first started sports photography, I always wondered how to get into sports media. The short answer is pester, peruse and persistence.

I found that getting into paid work as a photographer is like breaking the Chinese wall. It takes time and you really must chip away before entering the close net community of the sports media. For me it took seven phone calls and several emails to a man I have never met before. Asking him to employee me. Thankfully I was successful.

Even easier was the competition I entered to be able to join the WCF media team in Estonia. All it took was ten images, a few personal details and waiting for the date for the announcement of the winner.

I am incredibly honoured to be able to join such a fantastic team and make friends with the World Curling Federation.

Day six: The Eye of a Photographer

When I started my photography degree, I learnt that there are so many rules on how to make the perfect photograph, leading lines, the rule of thirds, fill the frame and don’t cut off limbs etc. The list is endless.

On the very first day when Richard and I were discussing my photographs from that session he told me. “The rules can be broken.” And looking at others work I can’t see anyone who sticks to all of the rules all the time.

I apply the rules just as any decent photographer does, but I like to break them as well. The trick is knowing which ones to break and why for any given photo. So, from that point on I have been trying to break as many photographic rules as possible.
This photograph of Melanie Barbezat was one I’ve been trying to capture throughout the whole week. It turns out it is more difficult than it seems. With the arena having lights dotted about the place it’s hard to capture a dark area of the stadium with a wide-angle lens. However, this time the Swiss player by pure chance was standing in the perfect spot.

With sports photographer there is always a bit of skill and a bit of luck. The photograph doesn’t follow the rule of thirds and It doesn’t fill the space.

Some may argue it’s a very empty photograph. For me Melanie Barbezat instead fills the black space with her glance up into the frame. Creating a very atmospheric shot. The main reason I was trying to capture this dark space is that it creates a very simplistic photograph but enticing. Just in the same way food from a Michelin star restaurant is appealing to the taste buds and a Lowden guitar is a treat for the ears this photograph is direct and visually stimulating. What was she looking at? What was she thinking? She may be part of a team but in that moment she was alone.

Working within the media team I can’t just think artistically. I have to think editorially as well. What type of photograph do Journalists and website editors want alongside their work. I should probably not get too carried away with rule breaking with only two more days left consisting of, semi-finals, bronze medals and final games. It is a very emotional period of time to capture the victors and the losers. I will deliver the goods but keep rule breaking where I can. My inner rebel!