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February 18, 2014 8:30 am

Images of greatness: Former NWC student covering Winter Olympics

Written by Ilene Olson

Gold medalist Iouri Podladchikov of Switzerland hugs his parents, Yurii and Valentina, after the men’s snowboard halfpipe final at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 11. Podladchikov knocked off two-time defending gold medalist Shaun White as the event’s top placer. Gold medalist Iouri Podladchikov of Switzerland hugs his parents, Yurii and Valentina, after the men’s snowboard halfpipe final at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 11. Podladchikov knocked off two-time defending gold medalist Shaun White as the event’s top placer. Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post

A former Powell Tribune intern and Northwest College student is covering the 2014 Winter Olympics.

AAron Ontiveroz is in Sochi, Russia, photographing the Olympics for the Denver Post.

“I’ve closely covered and followed free skiing and snowboarding events for three years now,” Ontiveroz said in an email Thursday. “It is fun seeing all of these athletes year after year finally realizing their dreams in Sochi.”

In his blog on the Denver Post website, he tells about his experiences. Following are some excerpts, reprinted with his permission.

“When I arrived in Moscow, I instantly knew Russia and the United States were different places. Of course, I expected as much heading into these games, but I did not expect just how clearly different they would be.

“Aside from my obvious expectations — they don’t speak incredibly fluent English, and everyone seems to wear last, last, last season’s JCPenney leather jacket — I was taken aback by the functionality of communication. It’s like the difference between Peyton Manning (55 touchdown passes) and Eli Manning (27 interceptions).

“There is no gray area here, and everything is an unnecessarily long and involved process. At the Moscow airport, I checked my bags with one man, he gave me paperwork and sent me to another kiosk across the way to pay a woman for my 12 extra kilograms, she in turn gave me a ticket to provide the original man who was still holding my bag on a conveyor belt; he then sent me to yet another room with my bag and another piece of paperwork to give to a woman who took the luggage and tossed it in a pile of a few bags and old pushcarts. Sounds confusing, yes? Try doing it being unable to read or understand Russian, save for some basic phrases, such as: ‘How are you?’ ‘What is your name?’ ‘I am a photographer” and ‘Coffee with milk.’”

He said a five-minute process in the United States equates to 20 minutes and “about several hundred yards of brisk walking in Russia. The ratio of one minute in the United States for four minutes in Russia seems to hold up in just about every regard.

“Asking for directions is much the same: You might have to ask four people in Russia just to get the answer to a question like, ‘How do I get up the mountain?’”

Russia a ‘beautiful country’

Still, amid all the differences, Ontiveroz sees similarities between Russia and the U.S.

“Photographing, however, is much the same as in the U.S. I am told ‘nyet’ (Russian for ‘no’) a lot. And just as in the States, I work to find positions outside of where most photographers are congregating to find different perspectives or angles to portray the competition differently. Universally, it seems, photographers are expected to stand in small, crowded spaces. The result: A lot of pictures turn out looking the same.

“To be clear, I don’t hate it here. Russia is a beautiful country with a flavor all its own, and I respect the cultural differences. I knew coming in that I was not going to Pittsburgh and am willing to accept the extra time and steps.”

He recalled a funny question he was recently asked by a pair of curling statisticians.

“They wanted to know: Is there an intense rivalry or competition among photographers at the Olympics? Were we in Sochi on the grandest of stages to also do battle with one another for the glory of our nations and publications or was there a sense of camaraderie and support within our circle?

“In all honesty, I had not thought about this experience in those terms,” Ontiveroz wrote. “To me, this is my job and an opportunity to see the world’s best winter athletes and sports photographers all in one place. Sure, we, like athletes, are here to compete in some sense, but like the athletes, our purpose is greater than just doing better than our competition.

“If anything, these Olympic games are an example of team work not only from national squads, but the world as a whole. Everyone (minus the transportation department, ugh, what a disaster) is working together, helping and striving for personal success in order to show the world what the Olympics are really about — unity, camaraderie and respect for the best we, as a whole, have to offer.”

‘I love NWC like family’

Ontiveroz studied with the photography program at Northwest College, where he earned his associate of arts in general studies in 2006.

“Without NWC, the Powell Tribune and my experiences from living in Powell (about one-third of my life — until third grade, and two years in college) I would not be where I am,” he wrote in his email. “Cliche, but true. I love NWC like family.

“I ended up at NWC when I was 20 because I literally finished dead last in my high school class,” Ontiveroz wrote. “A teacher ... had to vouch for me to even graduate, as I came up considerably short on credits. Even the University of Wyoming ... rejected me. That fact didn’t matter to the NWC community. Professors like Dennis Davis, Rob Koelling, Rob Stothart, Anthony Polvere, Mary Ellen Ibarra-Robinson, Jim Zeigler, Ken Rochlitz — well, basically every single person there — saw my actual potential.”

Craig Satterlee sent out word about Ontiveroz’s Olympic assignment in an email last week after Koelling sent him word.

“While at the Post, AAron has photographed President Obama, the 2013 Colorado wildfires, and the Aurora theater shootings,” Satterlee wrote. “The week before he left for Russia he was in New York shooting the Super Bowl.”

Satterlee referred to the part in Ontiveroz’s blog that referred to his attempt to find unique angles and locations for taking photographs at the Olympics.

“I think a Denver Post editor must have gotten to the blog after AAron posted it, because the first version was much more pure AAron,” Satterlee wrote affectionately. “What has disappeared is the line where AAron says that his approach is to be told no, wait until no one is paying attention to him, then slip off where he wants to go.

“I think AAron might have worked on refining his ability to avoid ‘no’ while at Northwest, though in truth I suspect it is one of his lifelong skills.”

A gallery of Ontiveroz’s work in Sochi can be viewed online at dpo.st/1aSGuy6) and his blog posts can be viewed at http://blogs.denverpost.com/olympics/author/aaronontiveroz/.

Click on thumbnails for full-size images:

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