This was certainly an interesting event in my history of Olympic games visits. Over time this incident became a story of legendary proportions at the Los Angeles Times photography office. For example in Bill Dwyre's column of 10 August 2004, he tells the story:
The accident took place away from the prime photo positions, so nobody got the real moment -- except for a man from Santa Barbara named Hiram Clawson, sitting in the stands directly opposite where Decker clipped Budd's heels. A Times photographer heard him yelling that he had the shot and rushed him to The Times' photo lab, where it turned out he was right. The next day, the picture by a now amply compensated Clawson led the Olympic section, showing Decker on her way to the ground, No. 151 in hand, and Budd lurching off balance.
In another public forum, at the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) seminar of August 2002 in Florida, Mr Dwyre tells the story:
*Dwyre:* The first thing I'd do, Dale, is to say, "Don't sign it." We have some specifics here. The Internet problem, I think, stems specifically from the advent of digital cameras. I'll tell you a quick story. In 1984 during the Olympics, we had a picture of Mary Decker falling down in this very controversial event. It happened that way down the track, away from where all the credentialed photographers were shooting, there was a man named Hiram Clawson, from Santa Barbara, who was sitting in the stands directly across from where she fell. He took the picture and started yelling, "I got it! I got it!" One of our photographers, Joe Kennedy, heard this, went running, grabbed him, got him into a car and as he left the parking lot drove over the foot of a Sports Illustrated photographer who also wanted the photo, which made me very proud of him. We got back to the L.A. Times and started to negotiate with Hiram Clawson, who now realized that he had something of some value. Our managing editor at the time, George Cotliar, was cutting a deal with Hiram in the back room while I was cutting up his film, which you don't do to free-lancers, as you know, but deadlines are deadlines. We cut a deal with Hiram in which he would get a portion of the reprint rights and -- at that time we had a fairly active resale business -- he would get a portion of every picture that we resold. My understanding is that the resale value of that picture went into six figures.
I wrote to Mr. Dwyre in 2009 to remind him of some royalty checks I evidently was missing. The moment was a bit bigger in Mr. Dwyre's memory than my royalty checks.
I'd like to add my memory of this incident. The event is wound up in my own personal history of the Olympic games. At the moment the fall happened in front of me that day, I was drawn immediately back to my memories of the 1960's when Jim Ryun was one of my boyhood track and field heroes. I was beginning to run cross country track in high school at the time of Jim Ryun's peak years. I remember him being ill during the 1964 Tokyo games, coming in second to Kip Keino at the 1968 Mexico City games, and tripping and falling during qualifying heats at the 1972 Munich games. The tripping and falling was happening again right there before my eyes to another aspiring teen age running hero.
The Olympic games were a big deal in my hometown area of the southern San Joaquin Valley, and a part of all of our childhood experiences at that time. Bob Mathias of Tulare, and Rafer Johnson of Kingsburg, both gold medalists in the decathlon were well known as a goal to shoot for in high school athletics. My high school in Lemoore CA was the home of Tommie Smith, who graduated in the same class as my sister. Tommie's 1968 Mexico City performance was an inspiration for my 17-year old world as I started my senior year 1968-69. I had a very good cross country season that year of running, and even had a record on the record boards at school right up there with Tommie's high school records.
My interest in the Olympics inspired me to hitch-hike to Montreal for the 1976 games to attend the games on a low budget visitors tour. I joined a German tour group expedition to the 1980 games in Moscow, one of the few American tourists in attendance during the American boycott. During my world travels from 1979 to 1982 I visited some of the stadiums where Olympic games had taken place in the past, for example the Berlin stadium, site of the infamous 1936 games. When the 1984 games arrived in my neighborhood of California in Los Angeles, I was certainly there with full tickets for events from Opening to Closing ceremonies.
As the 1984 games began, I was struck by the obvious parallels between the nationalism of the 1936 Berlin games, and the nationalism of these American games. The scenes around Los Angeles and on the television appeared similar to my memories of the historic newsreels from the 1936 games. After observing the American's boycott of the games in Moscow 1980, and now the Russian's boycott of the Los Angeles games,
I took on the persona of an odd protester. My "costume" while I attended the games was a gaudy red T-shirt with a Skull and Cross Bones, the bones being a knife and fork, with the slogan "Eat The Rich". I wore a CCCP Soviet Russian flag in my hat as an in-your-face reminder of the political boycotts. On that day of the photograph, a visitor in the row behind me had dumped their hot coffee down my back "by accident". The Russian flag on my hat wasn't very welcome to the boisterous American crowds. That evening when Joe Kennedy brought me down to the L.A. Times photography office, the photographers there certainly thought this was an odd scene with this character in "costume". They were snapping my picture like I was some kind of celebrity. I'm sure the photo editor, Jim Wilson, I was negotiating with thought this a very odd situation.
At the time of the fall, I didn't realize that I had the photograph. I remember sitting there watching the scene unfold directly there in front of me with images of Jim Ryun flooding my memories. After a few moments I was thinking, here I am with my camera setups, maybe I should take some pictures of this scene. So I snapped a few of Mary Decker on the ground with the field attendant looking over her. The race went on, finished, and I didn't think much about it.
After a while Joe Kennedy, the field boss for the Times photographers, approached me since I was sitting at track side in row two. He said he noticed I was sitting there with cameras and wondered if perhaps I had any shots of the incident. I told him honestly I didn't really know. He said, well, I'm from the L.A. Times and we are looking for anyone that may have pictures from that scene. He would like to take my film and get it downtown to the Times office for developing to see if there is something there. I figured sure, why not, I rolled the film up and took it out of the camera and gave it to him. I was lucky he was legitimate. He told me not to get lost, stay in my seat, while he went off to the press box to get that film can under way. He kept coming back by every 15 to 20 minutes to make sure I wasn't going anywhere. Finally, the afternoon's events were winding to a close and we needed to get out of there. He took me up to the press box area, where he kept going to a phone to check in. At last, my constant question, "Is there a picture ?" was met with an obscure message that we needed to get downtown. He said he could not discuss details. OK, fair enough, I need to get my car since it is parked nearby in an area that is not exactly the safest after dark. He said he would go with me. I had an old 1967 Volvo that had been crashed in on the passenger side, Joe had to crawl in via the driver's door since the passenger door was jammed shut.
We arrive at the Times office, I appear to be some kind of hero of the day the way everyone is taking my picture. Either a hero, or some crazy guy with an "Eat The Rich" message. I'm escorted into Jim Wilson's office and he shows me the picture. Wow, what a great picture I say. He says yes, the Times wants to buy it. At this point, I start my little 15 minute of fame fantasy, with comments like "Well, I'm just an 'artist' you know, I'm going to have to trust you guys to give me an honest deal here, I have no idea what this photo is worth." Mr. Wilson says the deal is this, $4,000 and all the rights belong to the Times, or $3,000 and you and the Times share half of all the resales. What are the resales worth ? Mr. Wilson doesn't really know because he doesn't know if it will sell, but if it does, it could be worth a lot. Sure, I'll go for half of the resales. Deal done, signed papers. He says what kind of film are you shooting ? Something like ASA 200 slide film. He says, get Mr. Clawson here some film. They bring me a shrink wrapped package of 20 rolls of film. I'd never shot that much film in a year. Show Mr. Clawson here the duplicates. A marvel of film strips hanging in the drying room with all the frames of this photograph duplicated. What are you doing with these ? We are air shipping them to the overnight world wide market. Wow, this could be worth some big bucks ? Yes, it could.
The picture was sold a couple of times to two of the runner's magazines of those days, and was used by the Times (page 182) in their book publication "Images of Our Times, Sixty years of Photography", William F. Thomas, Editor (1987). I was left with the memory that the overnight market was taken by an image from a staff photographer from the Chicago Times who had the whole incident on motor drive. Perhaps that was David Burnett, I don't know. In early 1985, I had a lawyer write a reprimand note to the Times and the The Runner magazine for their reproduction that had failed to include my name in the credits. That was one of my conditions in the contract, my name always goes with the picture. The Runner printed a correction in a subsequent edition.
I note now, via google images, that a number of images of that incident are available on the internet from a variety of viewpoints. That is interesting that a number of people got that incident on film.
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