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News

Kai Pfaffenbach’s ‘golden shots’ change sports history

© Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

August 2013

Images shot by Reuters’ photographer Kai Pfaffenbach changed the course of sports history at the recent IAAF World Championships in Moscow as they proved that Germany’s David Storl did not foul during the Men’s Shot Put Final, thus directly securing the gold medal for Storl.

© Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

This sequence of five photographs shows David Storl of Germany competing during the Men’s Shot Put Final at the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, on 16 August 12013. Storl retained his World Championship Shot Put title in controversial circumstances when his winning throw, originally ruled a foul, was allowed to stand after judges consulted photographer Kai Pfaffenbach’s images on his camera’s LCD screen.

Kai Pfaffenbach explained: “As has been the case for years now I am one of the in-field photographers covering the track and field competitions from a privileged spot on the grass. We had the Long Jump, Shot Put, Women’s 200m Final, Men’s 5000 metres Final and the Women’s Hammer Throw. Dominic Ebenbichler, my friend and colleague on the in-field, was to cover the Long Jump, the Hammer Throw and the finish line of the 200 metres. I would look after the Shot Put and the 5000 metres.”

Kai Pfaffenbach told CPN: “It was basically my one and only attempt to try and shoot the [Shot Put] event from this angle. I started off lying on the ground on my belly, shooting from a really low viewpoint from behind the ring where they do the Shot Put. There was a nice background with the IAAF logo behind the athlete and with an 8-15mm lens it looked really nice as a composition – I could get shots of the preparation as well as the reaction too. So, I was all ready to go. I had the remote camera getting that nice composition from the low angle, which left me free to shoot with the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm [lenses], so I could get some nice tight crops showing facial expressions and so on.”

Germany’s David Storl (right) points to the screen of the camera of Kai Pfaffenbach (holding camera). Judge Andrey Zhukov from Russia called a foul and then changed his decision to a legitimate throw after seeing it on the camera’s LCD screen during the Men’s Shot Put Final at the IAAF World Championships in the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia, on 16 August 2013.

Kai Pfaffenbach had shot a sequence of images with his Canon EOS-1D X DSLR and an EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM zoom lens, but he wasn’t particularly happy with the results. He revealed: “I was actually going to delete the images in question! I didn’t like the composition for this sequence – there was a microphone in the way and other things that I didn’t like compared to my other shots. Just before I was about to hit the delete button on the back of the camera I could see the referees arguing with [David] Storl, saying that he had stepped out of the ring and therefore his attempt was a foul.”

Within a few seconds the images of Storl’s put – the longest of the competition at that stage – were to become some of the most important sports pictures of Kai Pfaffenbach’s career. He told CPN: “All of a sudden Storl came running over to me, because he knew I was German, and he shouted to me: ‘Do you have photos? Do you have photos?’ I had about five or six frames shot with the EF24-70mm lens and you could clearly see that he was inside the ring, and therefore the result was correct and not a foul. I scrolled through the images on the back of my camera and said, in German, to Storl, ‘looks like you didn’t foul at all’. I showed them to him and to the Russian officials and they all indeed agreed that the result was valid.”

A TV still of Germany’s David Storl (right) hugging Reuters’ photographer Kai Pfaffenbach after Pfaffenbach’s pictures had helped Storl to secure the gold medal in the Men’s Shot Put Final at the IAAF World Championships in the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia, on 16 August 2013.

About 30 minutes later it was clear that Storl’s attempt was the winning put of the night and the athlete embarked on a lap of honour with the German flag and a bowler hat in German colours. Kai Pfaffenbach explained: “The most remarkable thing was what happened next. Storl gave me a big hug and almost immediately the TV crews came running over. They could see that I was involved in something and they all wanted to interview me about what had happened. I was now on the other side of the lens – a weird feeling!”

© David J. Phillip

Photographer Kai Pfaffenbach (centre) being interviewed on German television alongside gold medal winner David Storl (right) after his photographs helped to secure the gold medal for Storl in the Men’s Shot Put Final at the IAAF World Championships in the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia, on 16 August 2013.

He revealed: “In my younger days I had done some radio voice-over work, so I knew how to answer questions clearly and professionally, but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of attention I was getting. They were calling me ‘Germany’s gold saver’ and all sorts of things, and even at the airport there was media waiting for me. It demonstrated the power of the media, and I was, for once, in the limelight. I wasn’t used to that – I much prefer to be looking through the viewfinder, but I was pleased to have helped to ensure the correct result!”

Kai Pfaffenbach revealed: “I was not aware of the importance of my pictures and I could not imagine the reaction across Germany. Newspapers and online portals were headlining with ‘Reuters photographer saves gold for Germany’. And as you can imagine on social networks it very quickly went viral. My phone didn’t stop pinging as I received hundreds of e-mails and SMS [messages]. It was then that I really realised how grateful [I was] that I did something special while I only tried to do my job as professionally as ever.”