#ECC2017: Sport Media Trainee blog

  • Our trainees try curling for the first time Photo: © WCF / Richard Gray

Kristian Ross and Eakin Howard have joined the World Curling Federation (WCF) media team at the Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships 2017, in St Gallen, Switzerland.

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

  • Kristian Ross, 23: Journalism with English at Ulster University, Coleraine, Northern Ireland
  • Eakin Howard, 18: Photojournalism at the Rochester Institute of Technology, New York, United States

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

    Kristian Ross

    Swiss bliss: day one at the European Curling Championships


    I wake up, my alarm is buzzing, I hit the snooze button three times and then I realise that despite it still being very dark outside, it’s morning.

    I look out the window and Switzerland is before me. Well, the hotel grounds, but it’s still Switzerland. I’ve spammed the group WhatsApp and informed the team that I’m on the way down to breakfast. I get downstairs and the entire restaurant is empty.

    Aside from Al – one of the World Curling Federation’s IT specialists (“have you tried turning it on and off again!”).

    And after complaining to him that I was tired and realised his trip from Australia had him up at four am for the second morning running, I realised how lucky I was.

    After dressing in copious amounts of layers (as on day one, I realised that even as a t-shirt wearing Geordie – north of England native – who could probably survive in a gale) we set off for the Lerchenfeld Arena.

    My first taste of competitive action began with Cam – World Curling’s Communications Manager – and Mike – my mentor – explaining some of the finer points of curling. Steals, blocks, the button were all described at length and with practice over, the matches began.
    The most entertaining thing about watching multiple curling matches is just how quickly things can change. I understood very quickly that being four or five points behind doesn’t mean the game is over and the sportsmanship and integrity of the players is critical to how the game is run.

    Considering I can’t walk five paces on ice without either breaking a limb or landing on the softest part of my body, (no, it isn’t my head) I was amazed at just how skilful this game is. Seeing the competitors sliding down the ice and managing to curl these gigantic granite monsters with such precision and skill was incredibly satisfying.

    After a delightful dinner of pizza and apple cake, it was time for the opening ceremony and a brilliant show by Swiss dance crew – The Blackouts.

    As each team lined up with their respective nations flags, I thought to myself just how frustrating it is that winter sports are not bigger in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

    With plenty of time still left in Switzerland, it’s probably time to spam my friends with tweets, Facebook posts, and Snapchats, but if it inspires even just one of them to go and read about curling, I’ll consider it a success.

    Now, where’s my phone…

    Featuring an Alp. 🏔 || #ecc2017 #roadto2018 #curling #lerchenfeld #stgallen #switzerland

    A post shared by Kristian (@kristian7ross) on

    Day four: A trip to the mountains


    I’ve had a lie in this morning.

    I’m feeling quite fresh as I head down to breakfast. I sit down and start chatting to Alison Walker, from World Curling TV.

    Alison has had years of experience at the BBC. I’m burning to ask a million and one questions.

    This is going to be a good day.

    As I bundle my stuff into the back of a 4x4, I spot Richard Harding – World Curling Development Officer, heading towards me. He’s our pilot for the day, our captain, our driver, the person that will get us into the heart of the Alps.

    Our destination: Arosa, a village up in the hills at 1,775m.

    As we head down the motorway and eat up the road in front of us, it’s impossible not to notice Lake Constance, a sprawling mass of water that is not only Swiss but Austrian and German as well.

    We plow further on and reach the city of Chur, the capital city of the Grisons canton. Then our climb begins.
    I’ve never really had a head for heights. I remember going up the Eiffel Tower about seven years ago and not enjoying it one bit. Since then, my fear has got progressively worse.

    If you’ve ever been up an Alp, you will see the level of protection you have from the cliff edge. Normally a bit of metal crash barrier - but most of the time, a small wooden fence.

    With nearly 20km to cover and ice on the ground, the going was slow. We passed a small school, with Swiss children in their snow suits. I realised just how different life was up here.

    Each corner led to another postcard view.

    Finally, after nearly 45 minutes, we made it to Arosa.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful town. Breath taking scenery was everywhere, the snow-covered mountains, the frozen lake, the cable cars, the architecture and what I had come to see – the outdoor curling rink.

    Never seen a more beautiful place. 🏔🥌🇨🇭 || #arosa #alps #curling #switzerland

    A post shared by Kristian (@kristian7ross) on

    As Alison interviewed some of the members of the Arosa Curling Club, I started to notice differences between indoor and outdoor sheets.

    Every stone outside is different. Weather is a huge factor. If the sun comes out, the sheet heats up. If it’s windy, the stone is going to move more. But, the most striking thing is how quick the stone moves down the ice. I also found out that Arosa holds the Guinness World Record for the largest ever curling stone, which was made out of snow. Another trivia snippet added to my collection.
    As the temperature got colder, we headed to a bakery, which was owned by one of the club’s members, where we sampled an amazing barley based soup and Kafi Luz (plum schnapps, mixed with coffee). It was hearty food and after consuming some copious amounts of bread, I felt like I needed a lie-down.
    I bought some cheap souvenirs for the family – if you are reading this Sinéad and Joe, they were really expensive – and we said farewell to our hosts.

    As we got into the car and headed for the end of the town, I took one last look at Arosa and realised just how wonderful a place it really is.

    Day seven: A 'dander' round St Gallen


    Hugely unlike me, but as I awoke on the following morning, I felt great. A long lie in, a quick breakfast, then it was time to sit down at my desk and write a feature.

    My clothes are sprawled all over the floor and really I should tidy them, but it’s a glorious sunny day outside and I’m already out the door and heading into St Gallen via the bus for my first look at the city.

    As I arrive, with no surprise, I notice that Switzerland has a lot of banks. I meander through the city streets before stumbling across a book store. It has a variety of FC St Gallen merchandise inside, so I pop in for a quick look.

    My budget of Swiss francs I brought with me won’t quite stretch far enough to buy myself a gift, although I am hugely tempted by the club’s own version of Monopoly.
    Next, I decide that it’s time to send a postcard to my Grandma back in England. Using what little German, I can muster, I make my way back towards the train station and enter the post office. Strangely, they also sell mobile phones inside and as I hand over the money for my purchase to the cashier, I am distracted by the woman next to me who is being demonstrated the latest iPhone.

    My to-do list is getting shorter and the penultimate task on my list is to find a present for my girlfriend, Niamh.

    I always feel really bad jetting off to places and leaving her to look after our two cats, (which misbehave) so I always think she deserves something for having to put up with them… and me too I suppose.

    I enter a department store and find a helpful shop assistant who helps find what I’m after an I head out. Normally this is the part where I reveal just what I have purchased, but since this gift is a surprise, I’ll leave you all with a photo of the city instead.
    My final journey of the day is to McDonalds. Yes… I’m a cliché. But ever since I went to Germany a few years ago and found out you could have a beer in their restaurants and the Austrian versions did triple cheeseburgers (YES TRIPLE!!), I’ve made it my mission to try and visit as many different Maccies around the globe.

    The nice lady outside actually gave me a free coupon for a McFlurry, which meant dessert on the house. After navigating the self-service system in German (there was an English version, but I like a challenge), I tucked into my cheese and bacon fries, Chicken Barbecue and bottle of Apple soda and indulged….

    McDonalds, Swiss style. 🇨🇭🍟🍔 || #mcdonalds #stgallen #switzerland

    A post shared by Kristian (@kristian7ross) on

    Eakin Howard

    Day two: First flight, first time in New Jersey, first time in Switzerland and first time at the curling


    It’s been three days since I took my first plane flight and I think the jet lag is finally gone. Coming from New York, time in St Gallen, Switzerland is six hours ahead of what it’s supposed to be. Since I didn’t sleep on the plane, I was up for about 30 hours. As soon as I got in my hotel room, I passed out making sure to set an alarm so I wouldn’t sleep until midnight and make things worse.

    That night after dinner, I went to bed around 10.30pm and woke up at 5.30am. Two days ago I woke up at 6:30am, yesterday I woke up at 7:00am, and today (Sunday 19 November) my alarm woke me up at 7:15am. I’m hoping that the jet lag has caught up with me now and I can be on a normal schedule again.

    Seeing the shocked looks on everyone’s faces after they ask me how my flight was and I tell them, “it was great, but I don’t really have anything to compare it to since it was my first time on a plane.” Then they start bombarding me with questions like, “did you like it?” and, “how long was your flight?”

    To that I respond, “yeah, it was a lot of fun” and, "about an hour from Rochester, New York to Newark, New Jersey (my first time in NJ) and about eight hours from there to Zurich, Switzerland.”

    That’s enough of me rambling about my plane flight. Let’s get to the reason I’m here - photographing curling! To be honest, I’d never watched a single curling game before I got Cam’s call saying I was going to Switzerland - another first. All I knew About Curling prior to coming was what the sheet looked like, that someone slid round stones on the ice, and that their teammates tried to help guide it to the right spot. I had no idea how much strategy was involved.
    Having no prior knowledge of curling poses - some downfalls and benefits - because I’ve never watched or played before, I don’t yet have the skills to anticipate what’s going to happen or where to point my camera all the time. There is a benefit of having never watched curling before. On the other hand, it’s good that I’m coming into this with a fresh new eye. I might photograph curling in a completely different way than a seasoned shooter just because I don’t have any idea how to shoot it.

    Right now I’m working on mastering the action aspect of curling. In order to accomplish this, I must get much better at anticipating where the players are going to be and what they are going to do when the stone is thrown. This shouldn’t take too long, maybe a few days. Once I finish that, I am going to start work on capturing the emotion and sideline elements. This is harder to do, but Richard [Gray] and Céline [Stucki] - the World Curling Federation's photographers - do a great job capturing those moments. I have no doubt they will continue to be amazing and help me learn and grow as a photographer.
    To keep up-to-date with all the action from these championships follow us on Twitter, Instagram (@worldcurling) and Facebook (/WorldCurlingFederation) and use the hashtags: #ECC2017 #curling

    Day five: Trying curling and a look behind the scenes


    Yesterday Kristian and I were supposed to have a go at curling around 12:30, but it was raining and we were hopeful we might get out of it. They just postponed the event for half an hour until the rain stopped.

    After a few minutes of meandering about to slow down the process of going outside to make fools of ourselves, we were on the ice. After selecting brooms, Richard showed us how to push off, slide, and release the stone. I went first and to my surprise I got the stone half way down the sheet. Kristian’s first stone went about a quarter of the way. Both Kristian and I were surprised by how much force we had to put into the stone to get it even that far. After the photo shoot, we attempted to play a game.

    We only had a few minutes because a curling class was about to start, but we got a few good throws in. Out of the 15 odd stones that we each threw, I got two past the button and one in the eight-foot ring. Not bad for my first try. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Kristian.

    In the time we were outside, he didn’t quite get a handle on it. He fell a few times while throwing his stones but that didn’t stop him from getting up and trying again. After we got finished because the class was about to start, Kristian said he’ll leave the throwing to me and he’d do the sweeping.
    Now that I’ve mostly figured out how to shoot the action aspect of curling, I have been working on the hardest part of sports photography – behind the scenes, emotion, and other elements that help tell the story of the game. This doesn’t just have to be what happens on the ice. It includes everyone from the umpires to everyone in the truck making a live broadcast possible.

    Most of the time my favourite photographs that I take are not of the action, they are pictures of players talking and laughing amongst themselves or with their coaches. It shows you an aspect of the game you might not see otherwise.

    Day 7: Gear, Gear, Gear


    Being a photographer, I suppose I should post about the gear I used to shoot this event.

    Throughout the week, Céline and Richard have made numerous comments about how impressed they are with the gear I have. To be fair I don’t own it all, a lot of the gear I have with me is owned by the RIT Photo Cage. If you can’t tell from the picture below I shoot Nikon.
    With me I have three full frame bodies (D610, D750, and D810) and one APS-C Camera (D500). As for lenses I have a 400mm f/2.8, 300mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 17-35mm f/2.8, and a 14mm f/2.8. I also have an SB-600 flash that I brought just for the headshots I took at the beginning of the tournament.

    I have used every piece of gear I brought at some point, but I do have some favourites.
    My all-time favourite setup, what I’ve been using for years, is my D750 and 300mm f/2.8. It’s an extremely versatile kit that I take with me to every sports event I shoot.

    The 70-200mm f/2.8 is one of the best lenses to have and I used it daily when photographing curling. It may not seem practical, but I love putting the 400mm f/2.8 on my D500 because it gives me an equivalent focal length of 600mm!

    Some of my favourite shots have been taken with this camera/lens combination. It enables you to shoot all the way down the sheet and nearly fill the frame with players on the other end. In addition it allows me to shoot more detail oriented shots, like hands or the stone on the ice.

    If I want to shoot the celebration, I often times use both a 70-200mm f/2.8 and 24-70mm f.2.8 because it gives me the best range to get almost any shot I want, a tight shot of their faces or a wide shot of them hugging.
    I learned quite a bit about each camera’s strengths and weakness are after using them all for the past ten days. For example, all the D610’s focus points are scrunched in a tiny area in the middle of the viewfinder making it difficult to get the focus on the face when shooting super tight. For that I really had to use the D810 or D500 because the focus points extend much closer to the edges of the frame.

    All in all, it was worth lugging a suitcase full of gear back and forth between the hotel and the venue every day. If I had to do it over again, I don’t think I’d have done anything differently (except have all Nikon D5’s, but that would never happen).