End of the Volley Season

I followed the entire Swiss Volleyball season as a photographer. The result was a 13th title for Voléro Zürich. Business as usual? Not really. Different from previous years, Voléro lost against three other clubs during the regular season, and in the final  Sm’Aesch-Pfeffingen literally pushed the champion to the limits.

Volleyball NLA 2017/18 Final Frauen Spiel 4 Sm'Aesch Pfeffingen vs Volero Zuerich

Madlaina Matter (Sm’Aesch #6) gave the Voléro super stars a hard time. After the disappearance of Voléro, Sm’Aesch Pfeffingen is the designated new front-runner of the league

This blog reflects the season from my point of view. I base my thoughts on my current knowledge. Admittedly, a lot more was going on. So please forgive me my maybe biased view.

Volleyball is a micro cosmos. It lives in a bubble. Match reports use to appear just in the local media, or they are published by private persons/institutions on social media. Professional national media just appear at two events: the Cup Final and the Championship Final.

VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018

Voléro Zurich withdraws from Switzerland and will play in France. Laura Unternährer (l) will move with Voléro. Gabi Schottroff (r) will play for Sm’Aesch Pfeffingen.

Does the sport deserve this? The immediate response is no. Volleyball is fast and exciting, and the Swiss level is very good: The better teams easily survived the first rounds of the European competitions. Most of them reached the quarterfinals. This is really, really good.

However, there is a second thought. Maybe Volleyball deserves the low attention. So what’s going wrong? Before I answer this, let me enumerate some facts.

  • The distribution of the money is strongly skewed. There is no level playing field. The leader, Voléro, has a huge budget, equal to the very best clubs in the world.  Moreover, a handful of clubs has sound support by local sponsors and a few hundred regular spectators. For the rest, survival is everything. One club, Köniz, even died during the season 2017/18.

 

Volleyball, NLA 2017/18, Spiel 2 um Platz 3: TS Volley Duedingen vs Kanti Schaffhausen

Volley Düdingen is one of the second-tier clubs with a strong local support. The entire town loves their “Powercats”.

  • As a result, the competition used to be boring. With Voléro as guaranteed champion (as mentioned, 2017/18 was different), a few other teams just tried to become second. Just very few matches were interesting for this second-tier group, since all the weaker clubs were much too weak.
  • The best National League B teams have little ambitions to promote to the National League A. Rather, two years in a row, former NLA teams decided to relegate voluntarily. If the trend continues, the NLA is threatened by a card-house crash.
Volleyball NLA 2018-19, Qualifikationsrunde, TS Volley Duedingen vs VC Kanti Schaffhausen

Kanti Schaffhausen: another club that has a lot of local support

  • The crash happens even from two sides. Voléro recently announced to merge with a French club and withdraw the team from Switzerland. The reason is understandable: with the ambitions at the World class level, the Swiss league is too weak. Voléro’s superstars faced no challenge in the league, and weren’t prepared to compete under pressure in international matches.
  • There is no professional roof for the league. Rather the clubs meet and negotiate how the season should be played. The national association, Swiss Volley, keeps the central management to a minimum. A lot of important decisions are delegated to the clubs’ assembly.
VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018

Neuchatel University Club (NUC) made it to the cup final. Their spectators are like a wall behind the team

  • Voléro occasionally made gifts to both some of the clubs and Swiss Volley. The leading agent fed the principal and the followers. It pumped so much money into the sport that Switzerland even co-hosted the European Championships back in 2013. I’ll come back to the consequences.
  • News is turned into propaganda. Quite understandable, private information management via social networks emphasizes positive news, but has a certain tendency to suppress negative news. The public often doesn’t get the full background of what is going on. There is a boomerang effect, though. When things develop bad, social media commentators use to blame Swiss Volley while missing the full background (some blame Voléro instead).

The card house effect seems to be the major short-run problem. For 2018/19 there are two empty NLA slots. So far there has been no announcement who will promote, despite of the end of the NLB season. Does this mean the NLA will have just eight clubs in 2018/19?

Volleyball NLA 2017/18 Final Frauen Spiel 4 Sm'Aesch Pfeffingen vs Volero Zuerich

The money man behind Voléro. Stav Jacobi has enough of the Swiss league and moves to France.

With less clubs, there are less games. Less games mean less visibility for the home spectators and the sponsors. This means less income and less attraction. A downward spiral.

Another hot issue in the past season was the commitment to have two Swiss educated players on the court. This rule, called LAS rule, has been very much under debate since its origin. Some clubs see it as an obstacle to excellence. Lugano, Voléro, Köniz, and Sm’Aesch even sued Swiss Volley in the past. In this season Voléro was under pressure losing one of the best-of-five final games. To save their neck in set 4 of game 2, they played without Swiss players. A clear violation of the LAS rule. Voléro preferred to pay the fine: 20’000 Swiss francs. The president even showed a middle finger to the protesting Sm’Aesch fans. Another fine: ridicolous 300 Francs. The background is that the sanctions had been defined by the clubs themselves in the course of a negotiated settlement. And 20’000 francs don’t mean much to Voléro.

Volleyball CH: NLA Edelline Kšniz vs TS Volley Duedingen

Played for two clubs in the same season: After Volley Köniz crashed, their top scorer Nette Pait was immediately transferred to Lugano. This happened outside of the transfer window. Another strange detail of the season.

The scandal highlights the basic weakness of the system. A strong principal is missing who has just one goal: the image of the league. A better image would attract external league sponsors and make it possible to subsidize the weaker clubs. Good governance and freedom from scandals would be another concern. Moreover, the new principal should gradually modify the licensing agreements, including an obligation to invest in more attractive gyms. Currently, the clubs play in school gyms. Spectators, TV cameras, and photographers have wall bars as background. Where is a sponsor that would like to support this?

A franchisor-franchisee system could be the solution: The principal would be a firm with own legal identity, but owned by the Association. It would act as franchisor and the clubs as franchisees. North American professional leagues or the major European football leagues are leading examples. And maybe some famous franchise firms will be attracted as sponsors: the Swiss McDonalds Volley League? How does this sound? Just kidding.

Volleyball NLA 2017/18 Final Frauen Spiel 4 Sm'Aesch Pfeffingen vs Volero Zuerich

Good bye Voléro: It was nice … most of the time.

*** UPDATE *** Meanwhile Swiss Volley announced that the second from the NLB championship, Geneva, will promote to the NLA, but the first, Lucerne, won’t. Moreover, the Liechtenstein based club Galina Schaan withdrew. So the league will have eight clubs in 2018/19. ***

Panning

As the indoor season comes to an end, I’d like to explain some basic elements of what I think makes a good photo of fast moving athletes, especially in low light situations.

Nationaler Renntag Tissotvelodrome Jan 2018

F2.8, 1/30sec, 28mm. Taken on January, 25 2018 in Grenchen (Tissotvelodrome)

The basic problem: Imagine there is low light and you shoot in the full auto mode. The camera will (among others) reduce the shutter speed. So you end up with a blurred picture because of the fast movement. In my beginnings the following picture would have been one of my better result. Needless to say, this picture is crap.

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A crap picture with motion blur. 1/160 sec, 1000 ISO, f3.2, 14mm, Canon EOS 5D3.

Theoretically, you can turn the above picture into a sharp one as follows: Increase the shutter speed to 1/1250 sec (this is 1/8 of the previous exposure time). To compensate choose an 8-times higher ISO value, 8’000. If your camera tolerates ISO 8’000 you will get a nice and sharp picture. There are great cameras on the market that tolerate ISO 8’000. They are expensive, though.

The usual next step is to use a flash. How does this work? Make sure you underexpose a little, then let the flash pop in with the right amount to freeze the scenery. If you don’t underexpose, you end up with a strange mix of blurred and frozen movement. Some people like this. I find it just awkward.

A flash has disadvantages.

  • First, they are forbidden at many events, for good reasons.
  • Second, if some athletes are close and some far away, the close ones might be overexposed and the far away ones underexposed (see this picture). This looks very un-natural.
  • Third, the flash freezes the motion. Hence when shooting cars, or cyclists from the side, the wheels seemingly stand still. Here is an example. Isn’t it strange that the riders are in a 45 degree steep curve and manage to balance their bike on one spot?
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Mark Cavendish and Iljo Keisse at the Zurich Sixday Nights shot with flash: notice the frozen wheels

To be clear. I’m not saying flashes are always bad. They saved my neck in many situations (I shot the above picture because I had to get a sharp picture of superstar Mark Cavendish. No time for experiments). Photography masters produce terrific results with flashes. For instance, look at this picture by one of my idols, Kristof Ramon. It’s just that frozen pictures from the side are not good in most situations.

What is the solution? Panning. Don’t regard the low light as your enemy. Make it your friend. Panning solves more than one problem in sports photography. The following picture of Jens Voigt is a nice example.

ulf schiller (schillerphoto.com) - thejensie1c

Jens Voigt setting up a new hour record in the Velodrome Suisse

The difference to the previous picture of Mark Cavendish is obvious. Jens’ picture expresses speed, Mark’s picture does not. Both have blurred background, but look twice. The blur in Mark’s picture is unnatural due to the flash. The blur in Jens’ picture is nice, even, and natural.

So how did I do this? I set the shutter speed to 1/160. This is eight times less than it needs to freeze the motion (some say you should take 1/30, but in most cases this is not necessary). To get a sharp picture, I chose a single autofocus point, concentrated on Jens’ face and moved the camera exactly with Jens’ speed. As a result, the face is sharp, the rest is blurred.

The advantages are clear. The background is blurred, Jens is in focus. Moreover, the picture expresses the speed – it is exciting. So exciting that a super-sized copy is hanging on the wall of the Swiss Velodrome.

So what are the drawbacks? To be honest, panning isn’t easy. There is always a risk that you fail. Here are my tips.

1. Concentrate a lot. Any distraction will cause a blurred shot. If the eye is blurred, delete the picture.

2. Choose the ideal distance (if possible). 20-30 meters and a light tele lens are much easier than the 3.5 meters with Jens’ picture. Here is an example from athletics taken with 25 meters distance and 135mm. I took pictures of every heat. Each(!) attempt was successful.

https://schillerphoto.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/untitled-1-7-1.jpg

Clélia Rard-Reuse: Fourth at the European Championships 2016: 1/125sec, F7.1, 135mm

3. If you are forced to shoot from a closer distance, anticipate the changing angular velocity of your subject. It is fastest just when it passes your position. If you don’t anticipate the effect, your panning will be too slow.

4. Train this. Your success rate will increase a lot. I have a friend who shoots professional pictures for the automotive industry. Guess what? He trains panning regularly.

5. Choose a rich background. A blue sky or a concrete wall would hide the effect. So you have no benefit but the risk of blurring the image.

Conclusion. Some people that see my pictures respond with “you have a good camera“. Yes I do. This blog is not about a camera. It is about a shooting technique that I even applied successfully with quite cheap cameras.

Just Another Lens

Did you buy another lens? Why do you need another one?”

I recently bought the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 lens. Admittedly, this was a very though decision, as I have a lot of gear.  Why did I do this?

  • At many events my 400 was too long and the 70-200 was too short. Examples? Football when the play comes closer, athletics when athletes react after the finish line.
  • Moreover, I love the flexibility of a zoom to shoot the same scene close and wide at the same time. So a 300mm prime lens was no option (and far too expensive).
  • Finally, I needed a fast lens. F2.8 was a must.

There’s only one lens on the market that can do all this: the Sigma 120-300 F2.8

VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018

Der Swiss MVP des Jahres Jovan Djokic im Schweizer Cup Final zwischen Biogas Volley Naefels und Volley Amriswil; VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018 am 31 March, 2018 in Fribourg (St. Leonhard-Halle), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller

Critics on the lens were excellent. So I took the risk and bought it instead of renting it first.

I added a Sigma USB dock, because I understood that Sigma lenses almost always have either front or back focus problems. I downloaded the adjustment software and spent one very dull evening with the calibration of a heavy back focus problem (thanks Tobias Wagen for cheering me up via the facebook chat).

Moreover, the lens weighs more than 3kg. From my experience with my 400mm prime lens, I knew I could hold it for a while and use a monopod between the shots. I certainly would think twice if I had to carry it with me as a nature photographer (which I am not).

VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018

Here’s a digital zoom into a picture. The lens is sharp until you approach the limits of my Canon 1DX mark ii. VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018 am 31 March, 2018 in Fribourg (St. Leonhard-Halle), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller

The next event on my schedule was the Swiss Volleyball Cup Final. So I took the lens with me to this event. My friend Stephan Wiesner came with me and prepared a video.

So what is my verdict?

It is a great lens. Some “testers” have complained about this or that… I don’t care!

  • The pictures are sharp. Period.
  • The autofocus is working. Period.

The only serious complaint is about the initial back focus problem. Sigma stole me 4 hours to fix it. But here’s the second thought. I saved about 3’000 stones compared to a 300mm prime lens. In this sense, buying the Sigma 120-300mm lens instead of the 300mm prime is like receiving a daily wage of 2 x 3’000= 6’000.

This makes me feel good! I should go and buy another lens!

*** UPDATE: One month later I had many more opportunities to work with the lens. I stick to my verdict, but with a slight qualification. When the action comes close and I am shooting at 120mm at a distance of, say, 5-7m, the autofocus has problems. I missed some shots at Bundesliga matches. ***

*** UPDATE 2: It’s the beginning of June and I had the first serious issues with the lens. I used it at two meetings in midday sunlight and the results were… BAD. I immediately switched back to my old equipment which worked nicely. As this happened twice I will do further tests. Was it the sunlight? Was it me? Do I have to repeat the calibration? I’ll let you know, but it will take some time. ***

 

Mujinga

Soon after my move to Switzerland in 2004, I became aware of a little girl that was much faster than all the others. Not only did she beat my children 😉 , she always won with big, big margins against anybody. It was easy to see that she was really special. Her name was Mujinga Kambundji.

Mujinga Kambundji - Shooting

Almost 14 years later, Mujinga is an international star. At the recent indoor World Championships she won the bronze medal, beating the Olympic 100m Champion Elaine Thompson (JAM) and the World Champion of 2015, Daphne Schippers (NED).

Living in the same area, even being a member of her club, I always had in mind doing a shooting with her, but I knew she has a lot of similar requests. So I always hesitated, despite of other people telling me that she would agree for sure. In my opinion, there had to be a reason for a shooting.

Mujinga Kambundji - Shooting

The reason came when the organizers of the international CITIUS Meeting (Bern, Wankdorf, June 16, 2018) asked me to do a shooting with Mujinga. The CITIUS meeting will be Mujinga’s first individual start in her home town Bern since 2012.

My friend Stephan Wiesner, the well known YouTube photographer, came with me and we did the shooting in team work. Needless to say, that Stephan also did a nice behind-the scenes YouTube video.

Links:

Shooting action using flashes

Recently I did several portrait shootings with internationally successful athletes. The ambition is to set up special lighting using flashes. This blog is about the difficulties that you encounter and how to solve them.

The Basic Setup

First let me explain my typical setup like I used it for this portrait of the European Scratch Champion 2016 Gaël Suter. The customer (Tissot Velodrome) showed me a target picture with a portrait of a 5xOlympic Champion and Tour de France winner (if you know cycling, you know who).  That target picture had side lighting as the main artistic ingredient. So I placed my 120cm soft box with grid on the left hand side. This was my main main source of light. Next, I took my 180cm strip light (with grid too) and placed it on the right hand side behind Gaël. The idea was to create a rim light that would separate Gaël from the background (typical for sports portraits).

The rest was easy: Gaël balanced his bike on the rollers and I ensured that I pressed the shutter exactly when his right foot was in the picture.

Gael Suter, 26.06.2017

Gael Suter am 26.06 2017 im Tissot Velodrome, Grenchen, Schweiz, Foto: Ulf Schiller 2017

 

From still pictures to action pictures

Taking action pictures is considerably harder. This is a shooting that I did with Stephan Wiesner in December 2017 when we met the U23 European Silver medalist Dany Brand. The basic setup was similar, but not identical. One light source (the same 120cm soft box) from Dany’s front (of course now to the side of the photographer). Instead of the strip light we chose five speed lights from the back.

Dany Brand Shooting

Dany Brand (Silver 400mH at the European U23 Championships 2017)

The main problem is to freeze the action. To explain, a flash has a short but not infinitely short burning time. This time gets longer, when the flash is used at higher power. In such cases, the action often won’t be frozen. The usual result is a quite ugly image. So we had to ensure that the burning time was sufficiently short! This meant that the flash had to be at  low power. The usual reaction would have been to shoot with wide aperture. However, there was a second difficulty: we wanted to create the star-like look of the flashes in the back. Hence we had to shoot at F13 which is less than half the light as in Gaëls photo. We solved the problem by increasing the ISO (ISO 400) and moving the flash as close as possible. It was just outside the frame.

Moving the light source close is almost always a good idea in portrait photography. By the law of physics with half of the distance you need just 1/4 of the flash power. Moreover, the light gets softer (which was a potential problem here because we also wanted Dany’s muscles to pop out. But, as you can see, his muscles were bigger than the light source was soft 😛 )

Dany-Ulf-Wiesner

Me, Dany, Stephan

Better gear made me a worse photographer

Admittedly, the title is an attention grabber, but I have a point.

When I meet other “old” photographers, we start talking about the good old days after a while. We had cameras with a single shot only, manual focus, no auto exposure, maximum 400 ASA films (which is equivalent to 400 ISO) that we could push to 800 ASA, maximum. Pushing to 800 ASA was only possible with black and white films, of course. After 36 exposures we had to insert a new film. Back in the late 1970s sports photography was really hard. I shot Basketball Bundesliga games. I used about three films per match and went home with one or two good pictures. Moreover, when I look at those pictures today, they are all very soft. Given todays standards, I would just press the delete button.

VOLLEYBALL NLA PLAYOFFS 2018 QUARTER FINAL

Tiana DOCKERY (Viteos NUC #7) during the warm up for the quarter final between Viteos NUC and VC Kanti Schaffhausen; VOLLEYBALL NLA PLAYOFFS 2018 QUARTER FINAL am 24 March, 2018 in Neuchatel (Halle des Sports de la Riveraine), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller

So, let’s be clear: Today my pictures are better! But still, I think my claim is true: better gear made me a worse photographerExamples?

  • I was more patient. In a basketball match, I pre-focused on, say, the position where the power forward typically shot. Why pre-focus? Because I had no autofocus. After pre-focusing, I had to wait. Guess, what didn’t happen? The guy did a lot of things, except shooting from the “typical” position.
  • I was more concentrated. Today my camera is like a machine gun. Back then, I had only one shot. Then I had to re-wind manually. So while I can shoot up to 14 frames/sec today, I had to press the shutter exactly at the peak of the action. Recently, I remembered this when I was at a cross run. I set the camera deliberately to the one-shot mode and tried to capture the strides exactly at the point where the back leg was in maximum stretch. I needed a few attempts, but it worked after a while. The advantage: nearly every picture was perfect whereas with the high-speed mode, I mostly have “almost perfect” pictures, shortly before or shortly after the ideal phase.
2015-12-05-langenthal-cross-17

Langenthal cross run 2015: single shot, fill-in flash

  • I cared about the background. Today, I have super lenses. My 400mm F2.8 has 140mm aperture. With such a glas, background is just irrelevant. It vanishes in the bokeh anyway. Back then, this was entirely different. So I was constantly looking for positions with good background. This was often in conflict with the lighting, though. I shot many bad photos, just because I could not solve this problem.
2014-05-bernerrundfahrt-66

Cyrille Thièry at the Berner Rundfahrt 2016 – 135mm F2 (the cars in the background vanish in the bokeh)

  • I was more selective. Today I often press the shutter although I know that I shouldn’t. The consequence are tons of mediocre pictures that get deleted immediately when I look at the results. Back then, I had 36 pictures on one film roll. I didn’t want to waste them, so I was much more cautious when it came to pressing the button. Again, this is related to the fact that I am less concentrated than I was back then.

So why do I care? Because I come back home with tons of junk. This stresses my shutter counter and my time budget. My aim for the next year is to remember the skills from the “good” old days (they weren’t exactly good), be more concentrated, shoot less, without missing the good pictures.

 

“The team did everything to make it easy for me”

Volley Düdingen’s topscorer Danielle Harbin talks about her life as a pro in Switzerland

Volley Düdingen’s outside hitter Danielle Harbin will remember her first professional year for the rest of her life. After 15 matches she leads the Swiss top scorer ranking with 292 points – almost 20 points per match. Together with her team, the Düdingen Powercats, she also rallied through the first round of the CEV European Cup, contributing 20 spikes, 3 aces, and 3 block points to the success.

“I didn’t expect this” she tells me. “I never was a top scorer before.”

NLA TS Volley Duedingen vs VFM

Danielle Harbin with roomie and setter Zora Widmer during the match between TS Volley Duedingen and VFM; December, 16 2017 in Duedingen (Sportzentrum Leimacker), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller 2017

From the deep south of the US to the provinces of Switzerland

We meet and talk after the Powercats have just swept the third of the previous championship, VFM, out of the gym. Danielle is relaxed and takes her time. No superstar behavior. My interest is less in the usual after-game bla bla. Rather, I would like to know more about Danielle’s background. In particular, how did the young college player make the transition from the deep South of the United States to a small town in the provinces of Switzerland?

Growing up in Mobile Alabama, Danielle started playing basketball and volleyball. “I always wanted to be a professional volleyball player”, Danielle starts explaining. “One of our coaches at the Arkansas Razorbacks was a pro.” The coach approached a well trusted agent who set up Danielle’s profile. “The most important thing was to define my position, as I have also played on other positions before.” The file must have been convincing: Only a few weeks after it was published, Danielle received an email. It was already the ultimate offer – written by an unknown team in an unknown town in Switzerland – the Düdingen Powercats.

NLA TS Volley Duedingen vs VFM

The first of three steps until she hits hard. Danielle Harbin during the match TS Volley Duedingen vs VFM on December, 16 2017 in Duedingen (Sportzentrum Leimacker), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller 2017

One team member was crucial

Excitement and nervousness were great. Wow, Switzerland, was the first thought. The agent didn’t give much, but very relevant information. “It is a good offer. We can wait, as there will be more offers, but it is not likely that there will be many better offers.” The crucial information was that there is another American on the team, managed by the same agent, namely, Sabel Moffet. “With Sabel on the same team, things will be easy” was the promise.

“We have a good reputation on the US market”, explains club president Christian Marbach. “Mutual trust between our agents and us is crucial.”

Before the big adventure started for Danielle, there was another adventure ahead, though: She represented the USA at the University Games in Taipeh, Taiwan, in August. From the Games, Danielle travelled back home, then, after only two days, she headed to Switzerland.

Volleyball NLA: TS Volley Duedingen vs Volero Zuerich

Danielle HARBIN (TS Volley Duedingen #3) during the match TS Volley Duedingen vs Volero Zuerich Nov 19, 2017 in Duedingen (Sportzentrum Leimacker), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller 2017

Team around the clock

“We do a lot for the players, especially on the first days” Christian explains. “Two contact persons welcome the players. They offer help in case of any problem.”

“I arrived at Düdingen exactly on my birthday” Danielle remembers. So what was the first impression of the town, I ask her. “Cute!” is the immediate response. Düdingen reminds her of her home. A small town and volleyball important. The Powercats are visible everywhere in Düdingen. “People recognize me on the street. The Powercats mean something for them.”

“The team did everything to make it easy for me,” Danielle continues. She lives in an apartment with two other players, libera Thays Deprati and setter Zora Widmer. Even in their free time, the players stick together. Sabel plays the integrating role. She finds a lot of activities, or – in other words – she implicitly keeps the agent’s promises. The team and life: these two expressions appear identical for Danielle.

“In fact, the chemistry is right”, adds Christian. Having players with team spirit, like Sabel or captain Kristel Marbach, is ideal. “As a result, the team has a strong will. I am really proud of this team.”

Volleyball NLA: TS Volley Duedingen vs Volero Zuerich

Maybe Danielle’s best game so far: the 3-2 against Volero Zürich. For her excellent spikes just at the right time, Danielle received the MVP award. Nov 19, 2017 in Duedingen (Sportzentrum Leimacker), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller 2017

Train – eat – sleep – repeat

I ask Danielle how life has changed. The answer is surprising at first sight, but absolutely plausible after a second thought. Despite of the completely different surroundings, things didn’t really change,. “I have more training”, Danielle replies after some thinking, “now twice a day”. So for most of the time she lives in the train – eat – sleep – repeat mode. The usual life of a professional athlete. “I don’t miss anything here”, she tells me, “my family, of course, but nothing else.”

She won’t miss the family for long. After the final match of the year against Cheseaux, she will re-unite with the family and celebrate Christmas.

Volleyball CH: NLA Edelline Köniz vs TS Volley Duedingen

If its this far, there is little the opponent can do: Edelline Köniz vs TS Volley Duedingen on Dec 09, 2017 in Koeniz (Sporthalle Weissenstein), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller 2017

(by the way: The season re-opener will be on Jan 6, 2018, 17:15 versus Galina)

Seven youngsters to watch in 2018

2017 was the best year for Swiss Athletics. As 2018 is looming, it is time to publish my personal watch list of 7 Swiss talented youngsters (in fact, 8, but see below). Of course, there are many more succesful super young stars like the international junior champions Géraldine Ruckstuhl, Jason Joseph, Yasmin Giger, or Delia Sclabas. My aim is to go beyond the obvious and look behind the curtain. Therefore, I deliberately leave these amazing talents out.

Number 1. Annik Kälin. LEICHTATHLETIK SM U20/U23 2017

The 17 year old heptathlete improved to 5664 points at the Swiss Nationals late in the season. Her strengths are the long jump and the hurdles.

Number 2. Stefan Wieland.

LEICHTATHLETIK SM U20/U23 2017

The 19 years old STB athlete threw the 6kg shot to impressive 18.29m, Swiss U20 record. His personal record with the 7.25kg shot is now 16.58m. He is better than Werner Günthör at the same age, despite of a broken foot early in the year.

Number 3. Gaëlle Maonzambi.

Swiss Athletics Night 2017-20171118-181420+0200-US-9309.jpg

The 16 year old triple jumper from Berne gathered bronze at the European Youth Olympic Games in Györ (Hungary). She was even nominated for the Swiss Athletics Youngster of the Year Award.

 Number 4a and 4b. Sales Inglin (l) and Finley Gaio (r) 

WELTKLASSE ZUERICH 2017

Regarding the hurdles all attention in 2017 was on the European Junior Champion Jason Joseph (center). However, there are two other talents, one year younger than Jason: Sales Inglin (left) and Finely Gaio (right). Sales achieved 13.47 secs and Finley Gaio 13.52 secs over the 10 obstacles. Both will have another year as juniors and the opportunity to attack Jason’s national record.

Number 5. Judith Goll.

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Judith improved to 11.66secs over 100m. The 18 year old sprinter is “best of the rest” behind the six national relay runners, Mujinga Kambundji, Salomé Kora, Sarah Atcho, Ajla del Ponte, Cornelia Halbheer, and Samantha Dargy.

Number 6. William Reais.

42. Pfingstmeeting 2017, 03.06.2017

Active in athletics since 2015, William improved to 10.60 secs over 100m and 21.15secs over 200m. Born in 1999, the 18 year old sprinter is not only a talent on the track, but also a good-mood machine.

Number 7. Lore Hoffmann

LEICHTATHLETIK SM 2017

Admittedly, Lore does not count as a “youngster” in a narrower sense. Let me call her a late developer. She was born in France (1996) and has a Swiss license since 2017. The EPFL student took the 5th place at the U23 Europeans in Bydgoszcz and improved her PB to 2:03.03. When you see her, you guess that this is not the end of the story.

Farewell Ellen

Yesterday was Ellen Sprunger’s last competition. The Weltklasse Zürich meeting was just the right stage for the end of her fine career.

I met Ellen in 2011 when she was a very young heptathlete and participated at the Hypomeeting in Götzis joint with her sister Léa. Still a pure hobby photographer, I took some snaps and sent them to her. I started following her career, not knowing that I would cross her paths over and over again after I became a semi-professional.

Years later, I became impressed by Ellen’s personality. I apologize for an absolutely amateurish psycho analysis, but here is my characterization.

  • She is passionate and stubborn – maybe a career as a runner or even a hurdler would have been the better choice for her… better in terms of world ranking places. But unlike her sister Léa, Ellen never switched, because of her deep passion for the heptahlon (after a few beers, I agreed with the well known expert Guillaume Laurent that the 400m hurdles would have been her ideal discipline… maybe even at Léa’s level).
  • She is friendly and empathetic. During her career she started working for disabled children – she once told me that this would be her dream job after the end of her career. Well, ambassador for the Special Olympics 2018 in Geneva will be a good start.
  • She is tranquil and self-controlled. Fans will remember one of the key moments of her career, the 4x100m final at the Europeans in Zurich. Mujinga Kambundji dropped the baton and the disappointment was huge. Understandably, it was hard to deal with the home crowd and talk to the media. The way Ellen did this was just impressive. Team spirit is very much a matter of managing bad moments. On this day, Ellen showed that she has team spirit.

So what remains of her career? She is a double Olympian, 2012 and 2016. She was Swiss athlete of the year in 2012 and 2013. Until 2016 she was member of the 4x100m relay that took its path from mediocrity to world class. At the 2016 Olympics, she was the secret leader of the team… “Mom” the giggling girlies (sorry) called her.

Her biggest disappointment will be that she failed to break the Swiss national record in the heptathlon. There is no doubt that she had more than just the potential to do so. An ugly injury at the Achilles heel (“the heel doesn’t heal”) held her up over many years. So her biggest desire, a world class heptathlon performance, remained unsatisfied.

Finally, her physical appearance always was part of her. A broad public became thrilled by her courageous competition at the London Olympics that peaked with the fourth discipline, the 200m. As a photographer, I am envious of Olivier Morin of Getty Photo who took the maybe best known picture when she celebrated her performance. “Ellen Sprunger… sixpack” is a suggested auto completion by Google still today.

Quite likely, the sixpack will go one day… passion and friendliness will remain.