The pictures in this book are a selection of the photographs I took of athletes who were training to take part in the Olympic Games. In meets and competitions all over the country, the best athletes were testing themselves, and being tested, as part of the process of qualifying for a place on the Olympic team. All the athletes I photographed for this book seemed to me heroic, whether they made the Olympics or not. Whether they came away from these Games with a gold or silver or bronze medal or nothing, I admired them all for the fierceness of their devotion to the idea of doing something better, always better.
Every athlete wants to win. But every athlete also knows that the point of competing―of the effort, the strain, the self-sacrifice involved in training to be world-class―is not only winning, which often means simply being the fastest. It is also about euphoria, about feeling good. That's why the book ends as it does, showing a terrific athlete, a world sailboarding champion, having a good time in the water, far from the struggle of winning and losing.
Originally, I had thought that the book would also include photographs taken during the Olympic Games. But that would bring other subjects before my camera besides the athletes: the spectators, the new facilities, the media coverage, the spectacle, the advertising. It seems hard not to have some reservations about how far their current evolution has taken them from the spirit of Olympics past. But this issue barely arose in these photographs, except that I did have to insist with some, though not all, athletes that they not wear clothes with the logo of the company whose products they were endorsing.
That's why I chose to make a book out of photographs taken during the preparation for―on the road to―the Olympic Games. It's in the preparation for the Olympics that we can be closer to the spirit of what the Games were meant to mean, and do mean, ideally. To photograph athletes when they are still preparing means to concentrate on the athletes themselves. Their dedication, their joy, their pain, their mastery is what makes everyone care about the Olympic Games.