Pause for a moment: photojournalist Eddy Palen on capturing footage at three Olympics this year

Pause for a moment: photojournalist Eddy Palen on capturing footage at three Olympics this year

Kovidtest as a morning rush and security checks

Arrival in Beijing. Photo: EDDIE PALEN, LETA

If there were very strict Covid-19 restrictions at the Beijing Olympics – daily Covid-19 tests had to be done, then in Finland and Slovakia the rules were not so strict, the photographer recalls. Of course, there were tests to be done before going, but it was much easier to move around and document what was going on.

In China, where residents have been living under very strict Covid-19 regulations for more than two years, everything was prepared for the games to take place in extremely safe conditions. Olympic participants, support staff and journalists arrived at the Beijing airport, which was closed to other travelers. Special security corridors were organized, all arrivals were subjected to an in-depth PCR test at the airport (especially unpleasant and painful). However, immediately after reaching the hotel, that is, after about 3 hours, everyone had to take another PCR test.

After that, the Covid-19 tests had to be done every day – every morning by passing the quick test right there in the hotel. The results were entered into an electronic system so that the responsible representative of each country’s Olympic team could also receive information about the state of health of the members of their delegation. Every day, everyone had to fill out a Covid-19 health questionnaire in a special app. All participants and staff had to start doing it 2 weeks before the departure, Eddy says.

In Beijing, Olympians, staff and journalists were accommodated in special hotels in the Olympic village and each in their own “bubble”, which must be strictly adhered to. Every departure from the hotel was recorded by security personnel. Transfers took place along special corridors with special transport to the venues of the games. You were not allowed to leave the hotel on your own and on your own, not even across the street to the store.

Queue for souvenirs. Photo: EDDIE PALEN, LETA

You had to travel everywhere by buses, the timetables of which were not particularly well thought out. Sometimes I had to wait more than an hour to get to another game venue just over a hundred meters away. It was not allowed to simply cross the street, because there is no such security corridor. Otherwise, to get from one point to another, you had to wait a long time for the relevant connection, but there were many people who wanted to ride. Although it has been established that 20 people can ride on one bus, sometimes even 60 have got on because the timetables were not well planned.

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Getting around was much easier in Finland and Slovakia. There were no special security corridors or buses, you could get everywhere on your own. The distances between the halls and the competition venues were much shorter. Since the competitions of different disciplines take place in the Olympics in parallel, you even had to run from one place of the competition to another. And in this way, sometimes I had to walk 20 or even 30 kilometers a day.

On the other hand, there was a very strict security control in Slovakia, Eddy remembers – they checked the contents of clothes, pockets and bags. Interestingly, if there was any drink with you, you had to drink it to see that the liquid was safe. It was the same with portable chargers-batteries and cameras – the security control had to show that they work for their intended purposes by taking a test photo or showing that the charger is working. However, the order protocol worked, and surprisingly, even lost or left things on the bus could be found. They were even after several days at the found property point.

Misunderstandings and volunteers

At all Olympics, you could experience the special Olympic spirit, people’s solidarity and responsiveness. The volunteers made sure that the competitors, support staff and journalists felt especially welcome and supported.

Gaming experience. Photo: EDDIE PALEN, LETA

In China, Eddie sometimes felt like he was “lost in translation” and had to communicate with the volunteers in sign language or with the help of automated translators (on the phone or tablet), because the volunteers’ language skills were often not enough to answer the questions. Volunteers and staff have written or spoken the answer and then shown the translation on the screen, but this has not been entirely without misunderstandings.

“In Beijing, on the way to the “Big Air” track at the foot of the mountain, I asked the volunteers if they needed a special wristband for photographers, but they smiled so much and motioned for me to go ahead. I asked the next volunteers again, and they also sent me to go further. Finally, a volunteer escorted me to the actual race venue and then kindly asked me to show my wristband, which of course I didn’t have. And all this after I had climbed the mountain in the dark for an hour and a half,” Eddy recalls with a smile.

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