Cover Photograph by Annice Lyn

To get things done, photographer Annice Lyn needed mental strength to break through weariness, stress and expectations—much like the athletes of the Winter Olympic Games

In Beijing, Annice Lyn knew she had to be prepared mentally as well as physically. Having covered the Summer Games in Tokyo last year, she learned that covering the Olympics takes a lot out of a photographer.

Apart from having the strength to lug around 21 kilograms of gear on long walks and “a lot of stairs” on 14- to 18-hour days, the former Malaysian national figure skater made sure to tap into self-discipline for this year’s shot at the Winter Olympics. At night in her hotel room, she resisted the urge to crawl under the sheets and give in to sleep. Instead, she checked her gear, did her backups and charged everything so that “when you wake up, your equipment is equally as recharged as you are”.

The photographer ended her days at 2am and woke up at 6pm for the hour-and-a-half morning bus ride to the venue. Every minute was important so strategic planning was key: reply to emails in the first 30 minutes, check on family in the next, and study her schedule in the remaining time. There were more bus rides of one to two hours in between venues throughout the day. And on the ride back to her hotel, she dedicated 45 minutes to start backups and the rest of the time to sleep. Then, she did it all over again. 

Picking up on a different energy

Annice Lyn took time out to speak to Tatler one Thursday morning as she was still at the Beijing Winter Olympics, calling from one of the tables in the main media centre—a.k.a. the MMC, which she describes as a safe haven for photographers and editors, and which is equipped with a camera station (in case you need help with equipment), food and a robust internet connection that allow people to get things done.

“Today, I have ice hockey...,” she said, adding that this was “for myself or for the fun of it”, but later that night the photographer will be covering the women’s singles free skate event. The event is “quite important,” Lyn pointed out, because of Russia’s Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old figure skater who tested positive for a banned substance but was allowed to compete. If Valieva were to clinch a podium finish, the Olympics would not hold a flower ceremony. “Tonight, we'll see.” (Valevia finished fourth.)

The week before, the teen phenom made history by landing a quadruple jump, making her the first woman to do so at the Olympics. Lyn picked up on how something special was about to happen. As a former figure skater, she could differentiate between doubles, triples and quads. As a fan of the sport, she felt how “the energy was really different” as the crowd let loose a long “ooooh” when Valevia accomplished the feat. “It was surreal because it was so fast but you knew it was incredible,” she said. 

Capturing emotion in the small moments

The photographer had a plan for the women’s singles free skate event finals: “I want to capture emotion.” Covering the qualifying round, Lyn perched herself on higher ground to capture the action—“a clean shot with the logos”, she said—but for the finals, she planned to go down to the field of play, eye level with the action. She knew she had to get closer: “Tonight is the final, and every time [after] the figure skaters [complete their routine], they will cry.”

At every event, Lyn also looks out for the small moments when an athlete readies himself. “Sometimes they will pray like Yuzu [Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu]...I realised that a lot of people don’t notice. It's just a one- or two-second thing. They will take the necklace out and kiss it and hold it and pray.”

“There's a sense of quietness so you can mark your place. I think that time is when you know that, ‘Okay, I did my best... And now I’ll just let the hard work show’.”
Annice Lyn

The moment an athlete’s name and country are announced also make for emotional photographs. “That's a beautiful moment,” Lyn said. “And after that, there's a sense of quietness so you can mark your place. I think that time is when you know that, ‘Okay, I did my best... And now I’ll just let the hard work show’.” 

Lyn’s own experience training and competing for the national team has equipped her with a unique insight into the minds of these elite athletes in a pressure-cooker environment.

Knowing the sport also has its advantages. Lyn feels at home at the skating rink, which helps her choose the best vantage points to photograph different kinds of skaters. She knows, too, the moves (“There are times when they turn their body, they mark their checkpoint, and I’ll know where they're jumping”) and all the nuances that would make for an image with impact, whether a macro shot that situates a duo spinning against the bigness of the arena or a zoomed-in frame that depicts the anguished face of a figure skater in motion. 

Immortalizing big dreams and hard work

And yet, it doesn’t matter to Lyn whether her photographs look good or not. What’s more important is if “I feel like I did my job.” One athlete described the way she shoots as “not sports photography—it’s a soulful kind of image”. 

Another athlete told her how Lyn captured the ineffable: “She never said the photo was great. She just said, ‘You captured the image I always dreamed of, how I dreamed I was in the Olympics. You actually immortalized it’,” Lyn recounted. “I think that is more than enough for me.”

“It's really special to be able to, in that three minutes, come up with stunning pictures and more so a timeless picture for them to remember.”
Annice Lyn

It’s been 12 years since the photographer hung up her ice skates. Living in Southeast Asia plus a knee injury made the dream of going further in the winter sport impossible so she made new plans, pursuing architecture and, while at school, learning photography.

Never in her wildest dreams did Lyn imagine she would return to the rink. But now she is able to contribute something else to the sport and to her fellow athletes. “They work all their life just for that three minutes. So it's really special to be able to, in that three minutes, come up with stunning pictures and more so a timeless picture for them to remember. You're capturing their hard work, essentially.”

Annice Lyn is an Asia’s Most Influential 2021 honouree. Read her profile on our list.

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