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Olympic Nostalgia: UT’s Mike Martinez Remembers Working at Past Games

This winter, UT Professor of Journalism Mike Martinez tuned into the Olympics from the warm comfort of his living room.

But for six of the past 13 Olympic Games, he was much closer to the action.

An assistant professor who teaches sports reporting and media ethics in the College of Communication and Information’s School of Journalism and Electronic Media, Martinez covered the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, and the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. He worked for Olympic organizing committees in Sydney in 2000, Salt Lake City in 2002, Athens in 2004, and Beijing in 2008.

“I get a little nostalgic when I watch the Olympics,” Martinez said. “I know long-track speed skating the best of the winter sports and wish I was there.”

In 1994, Martinez worked at the Olympics as a photo editor for the Associated Press, supplying photos to news organizations around the world.

“The AP competes primarily with other wire services, and in that business often the first wire service photo to arrive in newsrooms gets published because of deadline pressures,” he said. “Quality, speed, and accuracy were the primary goals.”

In Lillehammer, Martinez and another AP photographer were the first to use a professional-quality digital camera at the Olympics. It was a joint effort by the Associated Press and Eastman Kodak.

Each day, the photo team selected a key event to shoot digitally. The other photographer took the photos, and Martinez transmitted the images back to the AP’s main press center for distribution around the world.

Two years later, at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, Martinez worked as a photo editor covering cycling, archery, and tennis at the Stone Mountain venues.

In later years, Martinez worked with the Olympic organizing committees.

“My role was managing the photo operation at the tennis venues in Sydney, Athens, and Beijing and the speed skating venue in Salt Lake City,” he said. His jobs were to help photographers set up in places where they could get the best pictures, manage work areas for them to edit and transmit photos, and run interference so spectators and other journalists didn’t get in the way of the photographers.

Martinez has a lot of great Olympic memories.

He was there in 1994 for the first icy encounter between figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding after Harding’s friends tried to break Kerrigan’s knee so she couldn’t compete. He also remembers Harding “asking for a do-over when her skate laces came undone.”

Also in 1994, he saw Dan Jansen finally win gold in 1,000-meter speed skating in his fourth and final winter Olympics.

In 1996, he watched Muhammad Ali light the Olympic torch at the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Games. At the tennis venue, he saw Andre Agassi and Lindsay Davenport win their singles matches.

In Beijing, he had a front row seat to watch tennis greats Serena and Venus Williams, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal compete. He also saw Usain Bolt win the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint.

Among the athletes he met, Nadal stands out as one of the friendliest.

“During practice he would chat with journalists if anyone approached him. But for the most part, athletes stayed focused on their training and ignored those around them.”

Martinez had hoped to go to work at the Summer Games in London in 2012 but couldn’t get a work visa.

“I probably would not be able to work at a Winter Games again unless I take a sabbatical, because it would compete with the spring semester of classes,” he said. “But I could work at a Summer Games again.”

Journalists, just like the athletes, find the Olympic experience both exhilarating and grueling.

“The best part is participating in the largest sports event in the world, where many different cultures come together,” Martinez said. “The most difficult is the long hours and long days. It gets very exhausting.”

Martinez photo 1

Closing Samaranch: Juan Antonio Samaranch, right, then president of the International Olympic Committee, honors Australia’s minister for the Olympics at the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Michael T. Martinez)

Medals rehearsal: Presenters practice for the medals ceremony at the tennis venue during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. (Photo by Michael T. Martinez)

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Olympic mascots: Olympic mascots greet people on the streets of Athens during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. (Photo by Michael T. Martinez)

Martinez: Tennis Photo Venue Manager Mike Martinez waits to escort Spain’s Rafael Nadal, the gold medal winner in men’s singles, on a lap of honor at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. (Associated Press photo by Charlie Krupa)

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Nancy and Tanya: Nancy Kerrigan, left, and Tanya Harding ignore each other at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, in their first encounter after the attack on Kerrigan. (Photo by Michael T. Martinez)