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Photographer who captured Usain Bolt-lightning bolt image calls it ‘pure luck’

Aug 12, 2013, 7:47 AM EDT

Usain Bolt Getty Images

Olivier Morin turned from his photographer’s position near the finish line five minutes after Usain Bolt won the 100 meters at the World Championships on Sunday, looked at his laptop and came across a once-in-a-lifetime image.

The Milan-based Morin, 47, has been shooting for Agence France-Presse (AFP) for 25 years. He captured the photo to the right of the Jamaican slowing down about 30 meters after crossing the finish at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow with a bolt of lightning striking in the dark background sky.

“At this moment when I saw the lightning, I thought it’s kind of special photo,” Morin said in a telephone interview from Moscow. “A good photo. But I underestimated the reaction of this picture.”

Morin blogs about his photo for AFP

Before the race, Morin set up five remote cameras down the track from his position at the finish in order to get Bolt’s reaction to winning or losing. Morin, who has been shooting track and field championships for 11 years, knows from experience that Bolt takes a longer distance after a race to fully react to his wins than your average sprinter. So he sets up one camera a little farther down than normal, 30 meters past the finish.

When Bolt won the 100 in 9.77 seconds, Morin was not only shooting with his regular camera at the finish, but also recording shots with remote cameras. When Bolt was on his victory lap, Morin checked the images from his five remote cameras.

“When I looked at my remote pictures, I was looking at my pictures as little images (on my laptop),” Morin said. “I didn’t see the lightning bolt was in it (at first). I opened the pictures, and I saw four pictures with the lightning. Two were not usable. There were two more where the lightning was clean and Usain Bolt was in the picture.”

Morin said a surprising aspect of the photo was not the bolt, but Bolt.

“He was without reaction,” Morin said. “The finish line was kind of neutral for him. That’s why this picture, if not for the lightning, I would not have used. There was nothing with this picture; 99 percent of this picture is the lightning. It’s pure luck.”

Morin said it’s the kind of shot a photographer could work his whole life and never capture. But he deflected praise, instead referring over and over to luck and fortune.

“It’s never happened before during 25 years, since I started working,” he said. “I think if I want to try for the next 50 years, it will never happen again.

World Track and Field Championships broadcast schedule

“It was a good conjunction of two parameters, one predictable and the other one not predictable,” Morin said. “That unpredictable parameter that made this photo was the lightning.”

Morin was back at work in Moscow on Monday to shoot the women’s 100-meter final, among other events. He went about setting up his remote cameras the same way he did Sunday — one 30 meters after the finish line — just in case luck would strike again.

“I don’t think I’m going to be lucky two days in a row,” he joked. “If I am, I’m going to change jobs or something else.”

UPDATE (10:45 a.m. ET): Bolt reportedly said this after the race about the lightning in Moscow: “I’ve got to get that picture right now,” he said, according to R-Sport. “That’s a pretty cool picture if it’s so.”

Morin said Monday that he would give Bolt a copy of the photo if the sprinter would like it.

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  1. wretchu - Aug 12, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    Nooooooo, really? You’re telling me that humans can’t time and predict lightning strikes accurately enough to snap a picture of them while a runner finishes his race? Say it isn’t so!

  2. imartinman - Aug 12, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    Is this a //TYPO// in both the story’s lead, and this caption?
    “Agence France-Presse photographer Olivier Morin captured the striking shot about 5 minutes after Bolt crossed the finish line.”
    Did the writer intend to say //”5 SECONDS//. This photo looks like the finish. The shot event didn’t happen 5 minutes after the finish, or am I missing something?

    Thanks.
    I’m a former newspaper editor; this just looks odd; inaccurate.

  3. Nick Zaccardi - Aug 12, 2013 at 12:30 PM

    Good question. Morin waited until after Bolt was out of view, on his victory lap, before turning to check his photos on the laptop. So it took a few minutes.

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